After a year and a half break, all for One productions is back on the boards with their charming production of The Charitable Sisterhood of the Second Trinity Victory Church at the PPG ArtsLab in the Auer Center for Arts and Culture.
This was the production that was on tap to close afO’s 2019-20 season when COVID-19 shut down the theaters in March 2020.
Charitable Sisterhood is billed as a comedy by playwright Bo Wilson, but I would argue the play’s goals are much loftier. While there are plenty of laughs, I think the primary purpose of the production is to explore the idea of what it means to be charitable. Can someone be a charitable person just because they donate to a tragedy that is occurring thousands of miles away, while at the same time ignoring the pain of a person who is standing right next to them — a person who shares your pew on Sundays?
A Delightful Journey
It is a hard show to describe without giving away the twists and turns of the plot, but the journey the playwright takes you on is one of the things that makes the show so delightful.
As to its basic plot, we are presented with five women gathered in the church basement. The task they have laid before themselves is to organize donations they’ve solicited and then send out that relief package to an area in Central America that has been hit by a tsunami.
After they gather in the church basement, the small town they live in is hit with a natural disaster of its own. A mighty storm blows through this small southern town and flash flooding traps the women in their church once a bridge connecting the area to the town is washed out.
It’s ironic that the play, which is set in 1977, concerns the subject of weather disasters — occurrences that have become all too familiar to us today. It also becomes clear fairly quickly into the production that each of the characters is living through a personal crisis of her own and each is in need of the kindness and charity the group is purportedly providing for the strangers in a different country.
The sad fact is these women don’t recognize the needs of their neighbors standing right next to them, inside their own church. Of course, as the plot unfolds and each character begins to realize the needs of the others, they change from a gaggle of mean girls to a collection of souls who truly love and care for one another.
Compelling back stories
Director Lauren Nichols has assembled a group of five women who work very well together in this ensemble piece. Each actor is given a gift by the playwright: a compelling back story which is revealed to the rest of the group. Each actress takes advantage of their moment to shine, and the stories they share with one another are what truly bind them into the Sisterhood to which the title refers.
The play features Christa Wilfong as the over bearing wife of the church’s minister; Whitnie Twigg as the congregant who, with her husband, has populated the children’s Sunday school classes (they have nine kids); and Anna Macke as a northerner recently transplanted from Baltimore to this small southern town, only joining Second Trinity’s Sisterhood within the past year.
The final two actresses, Megan Gerig and Stacey Kuster, each play characters who are mysterious strangers to the other three women. The facts about Stacey’s Janet just don’t seem to add up, but then Megan’s Riley shows up to help with this charitable drive the women are working on almost magically, appearing out of the blue. To say more than that might spoil some of your fun, but don’t worry, by the end all will be revealed.
The audience on opening night was extremely appreciative of the work, laughing and greeting the curtain call with a standing ovation. You can bet this little gem will play to appreciative crowds for the rest of its run through Sunday, Sept. 26. Why not be in one of them?