By Daniel Skora
It’s George Bernard Shaw to whom the sentiment “It’s a shame that youth is wasted on the young” is usually attributed. Had Mr. Shaw given his creative juices free rein the day he wrote that little gem, he could very easily have followed it up with this: “It’s a shame that riches are wasted on the wealthy”.
Williamston Theatre is presenting “A Painted Window”, a little gem in its own right. The play has to do with Josephine and Sylvia, two sisters whose lives have taken different paths. Josephine (Ruth Crawford) has lived her entire grown life in wealth and comfort. She never wanted for beautiful clothes, expensive jewelry, and sophisticated friends. Growing up with her ten siblings, she always had bigger dreams and for a while pursued a career as an actress. Her sister Sylvia (Dominique Lowell) on the other hand, has led a life that falls somewhere between simple and meager. She lives in a sixth floor studio walkup in Harlem and her lone window would open to the noisy traffic-lined street below if it weren’t painted shut. Sylvia doesn’t need a lot of things to make her happy. Not formally educated, she has plenty of common sense and a positive outlook that belies her no-frills existence.
But life has a way of changing fortunes, and as the play opens, we find Josephine situated in her sister’s apartment with nowhere else to go. Following the death of her husband, she invested her wealth at the advice of her friends and, unfortunately, a guy named Bernie made off with her money. Unable to give up her lavish lifestyle, she gradually sold off what was hers until she now owns but a few scant reminders of her past. Because her possessions and her social standing were what gave her identity, Josephine now finds herself miserable and afraid. As the two estranged sisters go down memory lane, the contradictions in their personalities take shape, Josephine helpless without her riches and finery, Sylvia, independent and capable of surviving with little more than her wits.
The play makes several forays into the future, most notably showing Josephine’s interaction with Charles (Lynch Travis) the African-American building super. Charles is a charmer who goes out of his way to do favors for the building’s residents, especially the ladies. It’s their final scene together which ultimately demonstrates whether or not Josephine will have the stuff to allow her to adapt to her new existence.
“A Painted Window” is a compelling drama about love, loss, and the often heartbreaking complexities of sibling relationships. Williamston has given a convincing launch to this World Premier of playwright Christy Hall’s moving drama. With Crawford, Lowell, and Travis, director Frannie Shepherd-Bates has assembled an accomplished cast. Lowell’s performance is the most gratifying, having drawn in Sylvia the more robust and irresistible of the three characters.
The set, by Elspeth Williams, goes a long way towards establishing mood. The cramped quarters of Sylvia’s apartment are crammed with the basics: a bed, a refrigerator, a storage cabinet and two small tables and chairs. But it’s the framework that surrounds the staging area, a busy network of PVC piping painted metal grey to look like all those aging pipes you see in old buildings, which gives both the play and the rest of the set the feeling of constraint and poverty that are Sylvia’s, and soon to be Josephine’s, world. Costume design for the play is by Karen Kangas-Preston. Lighting is by Daniel C. Walker, sound by Jason Painter Price. Props come courtesy of Michelle Raymond and Stefanie Din serves as stage manager.
“A Painted Window” runs through February 26th. Tickets can be purchased by phone Tuesday through Friday from Noon to 6:00p.m., by calling 1.517.655.7469, by visiting the Williamston box office, or ordered online up until 24 hours prior to the performance by going online at www.williamstontheatre.org. Williamston Theatre is located at 122 S. Putnam Road in downtown Williamston. If you’re westward bound on I-96, exit at 117.