Just One More Sip

Photo Credit: Connolly Photo NY

Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Zindel's gynocentric drama in fact unfolds place over the course of a Friday evening in 1968, within the apartment of the Reardon sisters in Zindel's native Staten Island. Chemistry teacher Anna Reardon (Amanda Jones) has taken the death of the sisters' mother particularly hard and, when the play begins, is medicated and has missed several days of work, where she has committed a legally and ethically serious indiscretion. Assistant Principal Catherine Reardon (Heather E. Cunningham), who lives with Anna, is attempting to deal with her sister's fixation on death, including an insistent embrace of vegetarianism, with the aid of copious amounts of both sarcasm and alcohol. Catherine has invited the third and only married Reardon sister, Board of Education Superintendent Ceil (Sara Thigpen), to dinner, inviting also all of the sisters' old grudges and new tensions into an evening further complicated when Fleur (Rebecca Holt), a guidance counselor, and her businessman husband Bob (Christopher Borg) drop by on their way to a night out.

An opening radio voiceover establishes the women's liberation protest of the Miss America pageant and the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics as reference points, and the early contrast between talk of DNA and chemistry and the efforts of Anna and Catherine's neighbor Mrs. Pentrano (Wynne Anders) to sell them skin creams and bath crystals further underscores the underlying social conflicts. The cultural anxieties about gender roles are most clearly on display when Bob blames the Reardon's problems on a lack of men in their lives. (His wife is more worried about increased secularization, on which she has written a paper.) The women, however, also undermine one another. Aside from the persistent and damaging swirl of onstage and offstage gossip that envelops all of the characters, Catherine and Ceil often speak over or for Anna, but when she pushes back, she gives at least as good as she gets. The emotional push and pull among the sisters (and Fleur's self-serving insertion of herself into the goings-on) leads to some painfully honest assessments of one another and to the revelation of secrets, including one of the true roots of Anna's fears. By the end, long-simmering resentments are laid bare in the evocatively shabby apartment set designed by Jack and Rebecca Cunningham, as are choices between the family and the external world, and between selfishness and sisterhood.

Theater in the Now recently quoted director Shay Gines as saying that Miss Reardon's "characters have such depth and are witty and smart and wonderfully wounded." This complexity lends the play balance and nuance--none of the characters is entirely beyond reproach or without blemish, even the blunt, mansplaining Bob -- and that is to both the audience's and the actors' advantage. The acerbic, rapid-fire verbal sparring deployed by Heather E. Cunningham's Catherine overlays a loneliness and even tenderness, seen for example in her teasing interactions with the delivery boy (Sean J. Moran, making the most of his short time onstage). Sara Thigpen renders Ceil similarly layered: she may be, as Catherine calls her, the bitch sister, but she is also the most focused on understanding and helping Anna. Anna herself is played by Amanda Jones as wonderfully mercurial, her exhaustion, fragility, and volatility all wrapped up together in a pale green bathrobe. Christopher Borg is increasingly hilarious as Bob's smugly knowledgeable everyman persona is increasingly tested, and Rebecca Holt's Fleur is equally funny, but with an unexpected edge lurking under the polite smiles and ingratiating laughter.

Zindel's work in And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little is reminiscent of Edward Albee, but more grounded -- there is a gun involved, for example, but it seems more a symbol than an actual threat. The production provides an engrossing, funny, provocatively relevant study of character and context. On top of that, audience members can engage in a much healthier version of Anna's attempts to help stray cats on her trip to Rome with Catherine: Retro Productions has teamed up with Neighborhood Cats, an organization that helps feral cats in NYC through trap-neuter-release and other programs, in order to raise money and awareness for its admirable work. It is not as though one needs an excuse to have a little drink with the Reardons, but it is a good one nonetheless. - Leah Richards & John Ziegler