Curtain Call: Phoenix deals eight hearts — all winners

Phoenix Stage Company, Oakville: Anyone who has a sister can imagine what would happen when eight sisters get together every other Friday night to play bridge. Stories are going to be shared, gossip will make the round; and sparks will fly. So it is with The Octette Bridge Club, when eight Irish Catholic sisters come together for a friendly game of bridge on a Friday in 1934.

Martha, the oldest and the bossiest believes in “her way or no way.” The matriarch of the family, she is an authoritative, closed-minded widow. She has no patience with anyone who disagrees with her. For instance, Nora, refuses to visit her parents’ gravesite with the others. Instead of going in the afternoon, Nora intends to go early in the morning and then spend the day with her husband and children at a special outing. This is unacceptable to Martha who demands that Nora change her plans and ultimately states that the others will pray for her to do so.

These sisters are always praying and making the sign of the cross. Considering that the year is 1934, when we first meet these fascinating sisters, it’s easy to understand why none of them want to hear about Betsy’s marital problems. People didn’t talk about things that happened in the bedroom in the 1930s. It was all hush-hush. Nonetheless, Betsy is the youngest in the family and she is desperate for advice. Her sister Ann suggests that she should speak with a nun about her problems, although the nun’s advice is always to take hot baths. Betsy has a break down and is sent to a sanitarium. The next time we see the sisters is ten years later –—1944. It is Halloween and they are all dressed in costumes.

They are also praying for their sons and friends serving in World War II. Betsy is back, but no one wants to talk about why she was hospitalized. They are all concerned about Mary, who has suffered a stroke. Even so, Mary like the others is hoping to win the prize for the best costume. Betsy has the most exotic costume. She is dressed like Salome and does the dance of the seven veils, which offends most of her sisters. However, as the youngest, she is part of the newer generation and realizes that her sisters are stuck in the mentality of a different era. She knows she needs to break away for her own well being.

Each member of this ensemble delivers an unforgettable performance. Helen Adams plays Martha so mean and commanding that the audience will instantly dislike her. Adams is strong in her delivery and never out of character. Neither is Emily Diedrich, who plays the troubled Betsy. Having seen Diedrich in many other productions, it is easy to say that she has outdone herself and delivers a tour de force here.

Beth Steinberg as Mary, is so sweet and innocent in Act I that when she shows up convincingly as the victim of a stroke in Act II, one has to cheer for her knockout performance. Sheree Marcucci as Alice manages to consistently play the devoted caretaker of her sister Mary. Even when the others are singing or playing cards, Marcucci keeps a loving eye on her sister and creates a genuinely caring sister. Deborah Goodman as Lil is the light-hearted sister who adds comedy, fun, and song to the production. She is the light in the darkest hour of sisterhood. Chrissy Flynn as Connie is the most intelligent. Flynn adds knowledge and understanding with her sisters. She is also married to a lawyer. KC Ross as Ann sides with Martha consistently and doesn’t understand her youngest sister at all. Teresa Alexander as Nora is the independent sister. Married with children, she has her priorities in proper order. Adding to the cast is Joshua Gogol who plays the photographer who snaps a photo for the local paper.

Overall, under the insightful direction of Agnes M. Dann, this is a powerful play beautifully rendered by a very talented cast. It is a must-see production. So get your tickets quickly. It only plays through Sept. 15. Box office: 860-417-2505.

Joanne Greco Rochman was a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected].

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Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]

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