Monday, April 11, 2022


Review by Andy Hoffman

In BEASTS, Cayenne Douglass has written an engaging play about the connections – and disconnections – between sisters. The older and wilder Judy unexpected visits Fran, living a suburban life with her frequently absent husband Jim. The sisters have not seen one another for years, it seems, and their last phone call, when Fran called Judy six months earlier to announce her pregnancy, ended with Judy hanging up on her sister. These two appear to have only one another as family, and neither seems all that certain that they want even that tenuous link.

Reminiscent of Sam Shepard’s FOOL FOR LOVE, BEASTS fills 95 uninterrupted minutes with this dyad trying reach an understanding of what ties them together. The play opens in Fran’s sterile suburban home, so far from whatever city it lies near that wolves howl in the darkness outside. Judy arrives with one small duffel and two-plus decades of resentment of her sister. We learn, as in Shepard’s play, about the family of origin only through the myths the sisters tell about the vanished father and the unstable mother. We can’t know with any certainty the truth of the sisters’ upbringing, but we learn quickly that they don’t take much comfort from one another.

The current friction springs from Fran’s pregnancy and the implied surrender Judy sees in it. Fran had promise as an artist but traded it in for the domestic certitude of money, marriage, and children. Judy, now in her late 30’s appears to have lived her past twenty years as a nomad on the margins of society, never beholden to anyone, but also never entirely free either. Fran doesn’t welcome her sister into her cocoon, threatened by Judy’s unpredictability. Fran wants to protect the world she has built, nervous that the poverty and insecurity of her youth will leak into her nondescript castle.

But Fran can’t keep the wild at bay. The wolves come closer, and Judy declares her intention to bring her unsettled life into the heart of her sister’s world.

Unlike FOOL FOR LOVE. BEASTS brings in some humor and release into the sisterly conflict by introducing Amelia, Fran’s birth coach, and Jim, her hapless but successful husband. Amelia only lacks crystals to complete the portrait of a New Age healer. She insists that Fran talk about her ‘vagina’ rather than her ‘hoo-ha’ and pronounces affirmations of motherhood as a sort of blessing over Fran. During these affirmations, Judy gets carried away, breaking down into a confession that she too is pregnant, though not visibly so.

This news – true or not – burrows holes in the walls between the sisters. Judy begins to nest, albeit in her sister’s house, and Fran reclaims some of the artist’s unpredictability of her sister. This role-switching creates the dramatic crescendo of the play.

BEASTS is the final production of the season for Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, which receives support from Boston University’s New Play Initiative and the College of Fine Arts. Clara Francesca brings a dangerous energy to her representation of Judy, and Katherine Schaber steals her scenes as Amelia. Marina Sartori’s set design and Kelly Galvin’s direction support the play without amplifying the depth of BEASTS’ inquiry into women’s reactions to one another’s pregnancies and the love/hate relationship between Fran and Judy.

The play itself will no doubt undergo some further rewrites. For example, the last-minute appearance of Jim – while funny – seems like an imperfect way to lead to the play’s denouement, and Judy’s initial appearance alienates the character from the audience rather than opens her up. Altogether though, BEASTS presents an entertaining and insightful evening. I found that getting back into a theater after

two years away injects the breath of life into me, and I look forward to seeing and supporting new plays at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre.

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