And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
June 21, 2012
Pulitzer-winning playwright Paul Zindel's 1971 piece And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little has been revived by Long View Theater. It is a refreshingly complex psychological portrait of three sisters, all teachers in Staten Island, who are dealing with the recent death of their mother. Their father left the family years ago (not unlike the author's personal life) and so strong women are the norm. Catherine Reardon (Molly Lovell) was the stable one who made her mother comfortable during her last days. Younger sister Anna (Julia Giolzetti) is on leave from teaching, due to a vague but harassing encounter with a young male student. Older sister Ceil (Elizabeth Belonzi), a superintendent of schools, has kept away from her sisters in recent months, partly due to work, partly due to stress, and mainly because she seduced and married Catherine's boyfriend.
As the action begins, Catherine is talking with her neighbor Mrs. Pentrano (Susan Atwood) about a disturbance on the block last night; angry Lebanons were fighting in the street. Catherine points out that the word is "lesbians," pours herself a drink, tries to ignore some of the ugly truths of Staten Island life, and continues to prepare for a special dinner with her two sisters. Catherine has been living in her mother's former apartment and now has Anna there during her leave from school. Since their mother's death, Anna has convinced herself that she has rabies and has become a vegetarian. For a play about the '60s, there is equal time given to the reasons one would want to be a vegetarian. Nevertheless, it is clear something is wrong with Anna, something that will only be hinted at in the rest of the story. Ceil appears, happy to see her sisters but businesslike. Perhaps her career ambitions would benefit from quietly putting Anna in a psychiatric institution.
The banquet of zucchini and kiwi smoothies is interrupted by a visit from Fleur Stein (Deanna Henson), a guidance counselor who has been tasked with delivering a get-well present to Anna. The present of fur-lined leather gloves makes Anna cringe. Fleur makes some astute comments about our civilization becoming too scientifically sophisticated for its people to remain sane and productive, which is what she says happened to the Egyptians and Romans. Fleur tries to impress her work superior, Ceil, but their fake conversation is strained by the presence of Fleur's husband Bob (Isaac Platizky). Bob thinks all teachers are crazy, in contrast to himself; he does, however, have trouble self-editing. Although he is embarrassing Fleur, Bob attempts to persuade Anna to go out with men her own age. The mention of men re-opens the rivalry between Catherine and Ceil, and sends the Steins away in a hurry. The intelligent, flawed sisters are left to battle over who is right. But did their mother teach them to hate men?
If you want to see a dark comedy, sympathetic to all of its ambiguous characters, this is the show for you. Jeff Woodbridge directs a strong cast, all portraying arrogance in their own special way, in that most relentless scenario: the real-time dinner party. Like childhood trauma, this play is as fresh now as it was on Broadway 40 years ago. I should also mention that I was raised on Zindel's "children's books" so I appreciate the reassurance that adults have had these troubles before.