Get ready to raise the roof. Then stomp your feet and clap and shout amen. This show grabs you by the throat with raw emotion and music that will lift you to a better place for two hours.
This show grabs you by the throat with raw emotion and music that will lift you to a better place for two hours.
MetroStage premiered “Three Sistahs” in 2002 and this is the fourth reprise. It still has the magic, love, and power of healing through music that it had in 2002. And we need this today.
Roz White plays Olive, Kara-Tameika Watkins is Marsha, and Ayana Reed is the baby sister, Irene. These three women own that stage. They are funny, bawdy, lonely, isolated, united. And when they sing together, you just want them to form a girl group forever.
“Three Sistahs” is the story of three sisters who return to the family home for a final clean-out of the last few items following the death of their younger brother, Andre, in Vietnam. Their father had died the previous year, and their mother the year before that. As the story opens, they have just come back from the cemetery. As they look around a melancholy falls over them which is perfectly captured by the first song, “In My Father’s House.”
Over the course of the next 24 hours, they will laugh and cry and challenge each other’s choices and lives. They realize that with the passing of their parents and Andre, they really are all they have left—no one knows them better or longer. As with many families, the choice is to continue the withdrawal and only see each other at the usual weddings and funerals or to really forge adult relationships informed by, but not overshadowed by, the past.
The joy in this musical is the journey. In two hours, each sister exposes her vulnerability and regrets, and also the passions and dreams. It’s a rich, complex foray into the complicated lives of these women.
Much of their lives have been lived in the shadow of their father, an African-American Marine Corps officer. His struggle and his insistence on rules and respectability have shaped them that they are still coming to terms with. Forgiveness is possible, but it won’t be easy. It isn’t until they find a couple of letters between their retired, disabled father and Andre serving in Vietnam that they even get a glimpse of the human man behind the iron title of “father.” During “Letter #3” and “Letter #4” you can see their world shake, and start to reorganize as they realize what they’ve lost, and gained.
Roz White is Olivia, the oldest sister who earned a Ph.D. and teaches at a university. White can exude the force of a matriarch and the hollowed-out regret of a long-ago love affair with complete authenticity. As Marsha, Kara-Tameika Watkins has the hardest role—it is the vaguest and in spite of her seeming beautiful, privileged, married life and sheen of frivolity, she is the most opaque of the sisters. Watkins carries off this duality with elegance.
Irene, the youngest sister, is portrayed by Ayana Reed. She is caught up in the civil rights movement and has a passion for justice and change that is both refreshing and at times threatening to her sisters, who are fond of suggesting she grow up. She is the purest incarnation of the future of these three, and she comes to an understanding that her accomplishments are because of the ones who walked before her. Reed’s performance is youthful, bright, angry, loving. And her voice has a deeper register that is startling and powerful.
And the music is just glorious. When I saw it this past Sunday evening, the audience would begin swaying, stomping and clapping, and some heartfelt murmurs of “Amen” and “That’s right” created a direct link between the audience and the actors. This music can trace its lineage throughout African-American history, from Gospel song that starts the show to the jazz, R&B, soul, blues. William Hubbard, an Alexandria, VA, native, is the composer. The music director for this show, William Knowles, creates a sound from the live musicians that never overpowers the voices, yet fills the theatre room to the ceiling. He is ably assisted in this by Greg Holloway on drums and Yusef Chisholm on bass.
Janet Pryce wrote the book for “Three Sistahs” and was the associate producer of the original world premiere at MetroStage 17 years ago. The story remains as fresh and timeless as it did then.
Thomas W. Jones directs the cast as a true ensemble. These are strong singers with distinctive voices, but when they sing together they meld as one angelic (with a past) host singing praise to life and, in the end, love.
This was to be the final show at MetroStage because the building is slated to be demolished as part of a redevelopment plan. Now, they have a reprieve until June, so there will be another show which will be announced later. But in the meantime, this is a gorgeously acted, sung and staged show that shouldn’t be missed.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Show Information: “Three Sistahs” runs from January 24 – February 24, 2019, at MetroStage, Alexandria, VA. For more information, please click here.