Review “Bald Sisters” (Steppenwolf Theatre): More Sitcom Than Dramedy

Tuesday, December 13, 2022 Permalink 0

Steppenwolf Theatre presents the World Premiere of the BALD SISTERS.

Two sisters clash over the funeral arrangements for their mother. It’s a likely scenario that has happened or will happen in many families. Playwright Vichet Chum uses a mother’s death to pile on the friction. The grieving sisters must confront their sibling rivalry, religious differences, and prejudice of the other’s life choices. Chum adds Cambodian immigration and heritage into the familiar dysfunction. His story provides a peak into the assimilation of a Cambodian American family. The sisters must pick thru the customs and practices to determine what kind of funeral their ma would want.   Although the premise is ripe for emotional entanglements, Chum keeps the tension minimal. The engagement level becomes more sitcom than dramedy.   

Chum’s script does delve into some hot button topics for the sisters. Yet, the hostilities are often quickly broken with a punch line or a flashback. In one scene, Jennifer Lim (Him) has an epic melt down describing a series of past unfortunate events. Instead of experiencing these intimate moments, the audience only hears about them. The actual struggle has happened as backstory and offstage. The profundity of these traumas become missed connections with the audience. We remain untethered to this troubled family. Even though Wai Ching Ho (Ma) delights as the wise cracking sage, her pop-up appearances steal focus from the sisters’ messy relationship. The comedy continues to water down the drama.       

Director Jesca Prudencio orchestrates tight storytelling. She effectively transitions back and forth from present to past. Prudencio also emphasizes the comedic elements of Chum’s script. She has Ho, Francesca Fernandez McKenzie and Nima Rakhshanifar deliver one liners with flourish. Even with fairly predictable set-ups, the actors’ timing and spin on the joke is often rewarded with laughter.   

Although BALD SISTERS is amusing, it’s not endearing. I was primarily left perplexed. I appreciated the humor. Yet, I wanted to dig through the relationship wreckage for a deeper link. I wanted to care about these BALD SISTERS. I liked them. I didn’t love them. And I completely missed THE pivotal end scene from my vantage point (north side of the theatre, row B). Prudencio staged the sisters’ tenderhearted exchange on the floor. A table obstructed my entire view. It was another missed opportunity to bond with the BALD SISTERS. 

Running Time: Two hours with no intermission includes a 15 minute delayed start.

At Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted

Written by Vichet Chum

Directed by Jesca Prudencio

Performances are:

Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.

Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

Thru January 15th 

For more information or tickets

Photos by Michael Brosilow

For more Chicago theatre information and reviews, please visit Theatre in Chicago

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