Running through April 15
730 Coleman Blvd., Mt. Pleasant
It's 1960. Anna and Carrie Berniers are two mildewing spinster sisters living in a house in New Orleans. Like Anna, the house is simply decked out, with few luxuries on display. Like Carrie, blooming flowers add cheer to the house with bright colors and a hint of fragility.
The two women have reached their middle years without any great extravagances, wild romances, or trips abroad. Their one ongoing indulgence is their brother Julian, whom they dote on despite his continual financial misfortunes. When Julian comes home with a heap of cash and top-notch presents, they reckon he's struck lucky in a poker game. Maybe he's pillaged a bank vault, or perhaps his jackpot has something to do with his wealthy mother-in-law, Albertine Prine.
Julian's accompanied by his timorous young wife, Lily, whose insecurities threaten the status quo and endanger her husband's life. But the sisters are the play's pivotal characters and an unexpected love triangle causes them to act in unorthodox ways.
After staging The Little Foxes a couple of years ago, the Village Playhouse tackles another, more famous play by Lillian Hellman with Toys in the Attic. This one touches on some tough themes, including racial prejudice and poverty. While Hellman's slant on them seemed shocking back in 1960 (when Toys premiered) it seems dainty now, thanks to a slew of other, lesser plays that have covered similar ground since.
Contemporary audiences will probably find other, broad-ranging aspects of the play fresher and more accessible — such as sibling rivalry, the importance of unrealized dreams, and the getting, keeping, and losing of money.
Director Keely Enright sticks to the period, building an effective New Orleans vibe with help from hubby Dave Reinwald, who constructed the sets and makes a cameo as a taxi driver. As usual, Enright and Reinwald do a lot with their modest theatre, creating the porch, living room, and staircase of a dwelling that looks lived in but uncluttered — at least until Julian turns up with his gifts.
As the family's black sheep made good, Ryan Ahlert brings the right level of charm and innocence to the stage, livening up proceedings whenever he's around. Never afraid to make herself look plain or aged, Angela Blanchard gives a remarkable performance as Anna, overcoming the inadequacies of her oh-so-fake wig to play the practical old maid who counterpoints the optimistic Carrie.
Enright's Carrie is a realistically portrayed, complex character, switching from comic to cautious to sneaky in a seamless fashion. Rainey Evans isn't quite as successful in that regard, giving Albertine an indecisive edge in the first act and a very decisive, confident one in the second in a way that jars. Once she settles into the enigmatic role, though, Evans effectively helps to create the "outside world" beyond the housebound scenes in the play.
John Smalls ably backs her up as Henry Simpson, her African-American confidant who provides a key piece of information for the characters. That gossip sends the unbalanced Lily over the edge, committing an act that threatens to shatter her husband's hopes while keeping him in her trembling clutches.
Frances Morris has the thankless role of Lily, a whining, overemotional catalyst of events. Morris chooses a broader, overemphasized performance that doesn't suit a theatre as small as the Playhouse, and doesn't match the naturalism of her fellow actors. Occasionally shrill and inaudible, Morris' appearances slow the pacing of a longer second act.
The highlight of this production is the believable interplay between Carrie and Anna as they switch motives and moods, discovering how they really feel about each other in a way that makes the show work despite its annoying inconsistencies.