River Street Playhouse’s Comedy “Belles” Showcases Six Isolated Sisters Longing for Connection
By Marjorie Preston
The Chagrin Valley Little Theatre’s production of “Belles” by Mark Dunn at the River Street Playhouse is a treatise on the isolation and neediness of a group of far-flung sisters who are desperate for human connection in their adult lives. The script does paint a clear picture of each character, but because the characters never truly connect in person, the effect is unsettling and worrisome more than humorous.
These six sisters, everyday people in everyday situations, approach life in very different ways as a result of their upbringing by an alcoholic father. The audience members become witnesses to an unspoken crime with a permanent ripple effect. Dunn’s script is funny, but also cries out for the sisters, living miles from each other, to just go visit each other already and try to heal the wounds that have caused them to find comfort in the wrong people and things.
Peggy Reece (Yvonne E. Pilarczyk), a widow now caring for her aging mom, is the obvious caretaker of the group. Her attempt to reason with a prank phone caller in one scene brings her buried emotion to the surface. Aneece Walker (Denise Larkin), single and married to her job, is also an alcoholic who longs to reconnect with her mother, with whom she is estranged. She has stuffed down her feelings for so long, it is almost a given she will choose a bottle over a person.
Roseanne Johnson (Claudia Lillibridge) is a preacher’s wife and great judge of character, except when it came to choosing a mate. When she receives a disturbing call from her husband, the resulting darkly comic monologue summarizing her sisters’ brands of crazy – and why she shouldn’t bother calling them – is a highlight of the show. Audrey Hart (Jenny Barrett) is married to a man who seems to prefer hunting with his buddies to being home with his wife, leaving her to get overly attached to her ventriloquist’s dummy, to great comic effect.
Paige Walker (Macey Staninger) is a grad student who can’t commit past the first date with any man she meets. The perfect man she’s seeking may in fact exist, but she may discover that he is “not her type.” Sherry “Dust” Walker (Sarah Doody) is a new age, free-love, poetic and passionate woman. When tested, she turns out to be petty, angry and fickle, not the serene picture she paints.
Director Barbara L. Rhoades has cast six women who seem to be on six different planets, each having found a wobbly orbit away from their past. In the set design by Technical Director Edmond Wolff, six different phone nooks show the ways these women differ even in their telephone use, be it sitting on the floor, standing in a kitchen, or sitting at a table and chair.
The scenes where the sisters talk to men – husbands, dates, club managers or even prank callers are, funny and interestingly, the most telling about themselves and move the plot forward most. When speaking with their sisters, the women often criticize each other or rehash past events. The script for “Belles” doesn’t foster big changes among the characters, and it might be said that these characters may already be too damaged for dramatic change, but it is surely bold storytelling.
“Belles” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through August 25th at the River Street Playhouse, 56 River Street, Chagrin Falls. For tickets, call (440) 247-8955 or visit www.cvlt.org. All tickets to the River Street Playhouse are $10.