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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
My Sister is an intelligent and compelling examination of a sibling relationship which is tested not only by Matilde's limitations, but by untenable socio-political circumstances. Schlapkohn may have set out to write a story about the nature and price of a disability, but the further into Magda and Matilde's story the playwright burrows, the deeper and more far-reaching My Sister becomes.
The play, previously mounted at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, has been expanded to a 95 minute length for its current run at the Odyssey Theatre. While this new version co-directed by Ron Sossi and Paul David Story still contains some rough edges, the work of performers Elizabeth and Emily Hinkler — for whom the play was written — is as arresting as it is brave.
The resemblance between the identical twin sisters, who play the only two characters, is remarkable. They possess the same slim boyish figures and bobbed hair style, the same high forehead and generous smile. Magda (played by Emily) is continuously changing in and out of face paint or costumes as she returns from or heads out to the hospital where she works by day or to the cabaret where she is fast becoming a rising star. Matilde (Elizabeth) wears the same practical outfit which she can only change out of with help. She has slurred speech and can barely walk, but her creativity is as keen as a razor blade. When Matilde refers to herself as a cripple, her sister explodes, "You are not to use that word!" Indeed she shouldn't.
The action takes place in Berlin as Hitler is rising to power and the Nazis (referred interchangeably within the play as "National Socialists") are rounding up people with disabilities ("incurables") as well as Jews and homosexuals. Political circumstance and the limits of her own body leave Matilde confined to the mean little apartment (efficiently designed by Pete Hickok) that the two sisters share. Here Matilde writes the jokes, songs and routines that allow Magda to finally make a name for herself in a cabaret that caters to lesbians. As the new regime starts to take hold and more soldiers start showing up in the audience, Magda more drastically she edits and sanitizes Matilde's potentially incendiary writing. Since the sisters don't always share the same principles resentment festers on both sides. Needless to say, a storm is brewing.
The action weaves between Magda's performances in the cabaret and the life she leads at home caring for her sister. Directors Sossi and Story use the songs (written by the playwright and Christopher Gene Okiishi) as narrative interludes. Accompanied by pianist Barbara Rottman, Emily Hinkler's Magda is a sassy and beguiling chanteuse who won't let a little thing like fear keep her from delivering a ripping good show.
The sister-sister dynamic morphs between mother-child, teacher-student and protector-protectee. When they're not giggling conspiratorially over male body parts, Matilde may be schooling Magda in survival techniques, or vice versa. Elizabeth Hinkler's rendering of Matilde's disability is as technically deft as it is painful to watch.
As the Odyssey production of My Sister constitutes at least the third time that the Hinkler sisters have performed this play, one wonders if they could switch roles on a nightly basis (like Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly's celebrated role-swapping in the 2000 Broadway revival of True West. Of course, if Emily and Elizabeth did attempt this, it might be difficult for a casual viewer to tell the difference. Frivolous speculation notwithstanding, the Hinkler sisters' work in this most intriguing play kicks off the Odyssey's year with a flourish.