Review: ‘Sistahs’ cooks up heartfelt look at family life

As an allegory for family, a warm pot of soup bubbling over the kitchen stove makes a fitting symbol.

Combined, the medley of ingredients holds the power to heal, satisfy and soothe. Left unattended, these ingredients can boil over and burn.

In Cayman Drama Society’s production of “Sistahs,” emotions simmer as five women come together to create an “everybody-bring-something soup.”

First performed in Toronto in 1994, “Sistahs,” by playwrights Maxine Bailey and Sharon M. Lewis, celebrates family, friendship and Caribbean culture in a universally relatable setting: at the kitchen table.

The play’s opening this week at Cayman’s Prospect Playhouse will be the work’s Caribbean premiere.

Sandra, played by Wendee Miller, has invited her family to gather on a Sunday afternoon and cook. As she stresses over capturing authentic Trinidadian flavors in the soup, it becomes clear this gathering is about much more than food.

Sandra suffers from late-stage cancer, a reality driving the anxiety and anger of her teenage daughter Assata, played by Katherine Erskine.

In a push to cement new familial bonds for Assata, Sandra brings together the women who matter the most to her: her partner Dehlia (Juliet Garricks), her half-sister Rea (Kayla Manderson) and family friend Cerise (Rita Estevanovich).

Like ingredients in a pot, Sandra hopes to see these women meld together despite their many differences.

The production premieres this week at the Prospect Playhouse Theatre.

“They have a shared goal. They don’t all warm up so quickly but when they do, what a powerful group of women they become,” says Estevanovich.

“Nothing brings people together more than food. You don’t have to speak the same language, but if you have a bowl of something in front of you, you can share a meal with someone. … The act of cooking the food together, that plays an important role in this play and how it develops.”

In a quick hour-and-a-half performance, “Sistahs” delves into the complexity and beauty of female relationships. Tensions between mother and daughter, friends and lovers all play out on stage.

Disagreements between the women begin with the most basic: the ingredients of the soup. As knives get to chopping, the tensions between this group begin to cut deeper. Blood bonds, sexuality and black identity are all laid out on the table, forcing the cast to ruminate over uncomfortable aspects of their lives.

As a student at Clifton Hunter High School, Erskine says the mother-daughter dynamic in the play spoke to her personally.

“That’s actually one of the reasons I wanted to play Assata because I found some of the issues she was going through were some of the issues that I was going through at home,” she says.

Cayman Drama Society’s performance of ‘Sistahs’ will be the work’s first time on stage in the Caribbean.

“I would recommend everyone come out to the show. It will speak to everyone no matter what age, color, race, whatever. It will speak to you. Just come and watch. It’s fun.”

The concept of sisterhood shines through the performances of the all-female cast, directed by Paul de Freitas. The actresses banter naturally on stage, as if sitting over a meal in their own home.

At times funny and other times sad, “Sistahs” offers a heartfelt and honest look at family life.

“I think that most people who come will be moved to some degree, whether it’s towards tears or towards laughter. But I don’t think anybody is going to come and not leave without taking something from what goes on here. This is a really amazing story,” says Garricks.

‘Sistahs’ runs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from Sept. 7-23 at Prospect Playhouse. Shows starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children. The show touches on mature topics and is recommended for audiences over 13. See www.cds.ky for more information.

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