Sunday, March 29, 2009

Belles (Lion Theatre)

By Scott
well acted • well directed • great set • something was missing

Kelly Strandemo, Christina Shipp, Kristi McCarson, Laura Faith in Belles. Photo by Christian DeAngelis.

BOTTOM LINE: So close and yet so far.

There is a lot to like about Belles, a play about six sisters desperately trying to connect with one another despite the distances between them, both physical and emotional. The play's strongest asset is the six actresses playing the sisters, each perfectly cast and able to effortlessly convey both the archetype she represents (successful business woman who is emotionally shut off, the flaky free-spirit who changes her name to Dust, the repressed Preacher's wife, etc.) as well as the conflict she believes to be uniquely her own. Director Marisa Voila weaves the story in and around a cozy, well appointed set that looks like your average American home. She creatively and effectively has the sisters alternating rooms until everyone has played at least one scene in every room, so that the space becomes both individual and universal, symbolic of the thread that connects each of these women. The scenes are well paced and fluid, the cast, as mentioned, adeptly navigates its way through the scenes mining the maximum emotional (when necessary) and comedic (when necessary) value while remaining grounded and believable. The costumes and lighting and all the other technical elements of the play are similarly top notch.

My only criticism is that because the entire play is a series of phone calls (45 to be exact), it means that there was never a real face-to-face connection between any of the characters. As the play unfolded and the histories and frustrations and resentments were revealed and confronted, my desire for at least two people to be in the same room at the same time and actually deal with each other live and without the protection of distance continued to grow. Because that desire was never satisfied, I left feeling like this play had unfinished business, that I wanted more. Which, perhaps is not a bad thing. And I certainly don’t mean to suggest that the creators of this production didn’t fulfill their obligation to the play, its just that for me, one of the thrills of live theatre is the opportunity to watch human beings deal with one another face to face and in real time, perhaps in ways we never would or even could in real life. As the various pairs of women stood on stage talking into their phones, though within mere inches of each other, they were figuratively miles apart. And consequently, so was I.

(Belles plays through April 12 at the Lion Theatre, Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street. Performances are Mondays at 7pm, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $21.25 and are available at or by phone at 212-279-4200. For more show info visit

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