“My Sister” Returns to LA for a Run at the Odyssey

My Sister was a breakout hit at last summer’s Hollywood Fringe. Now it’s returned, wearing a few new scenes and lines, for a good long run at the Odyssey.

It’s still a quiet two-hander,  about twin sisters trying to make it in the cabarets of 1930s Berlin — Magda as a performer, Matilde as her writer.  It still enmeshes us at once with their fierce, sweet love and their whispered mantra, Immer zusammen (“Always together”).

Emily Hinkler, Elizabeth Hinkler

Emily Hinkler, Elizabeth Hinkler

And it still moves toward the inevitable tragedy. Magda (Emily Hinkler) scrubs hospital floors and tends mentally ill patients by day, so she can throw on a costume and rush to the club each night. Matilde (Elizabeth Hinkler) stays home, writing Madga’s saucy routines — and hiding her cerebral palsy from the world.

Soon, they catch a break: Magda earns a regular spot on the club’s bill. But just as soon, street gangs and the Reichstag fire catapult the Nazis into power. Matilde wants to redouble her barbed attacks; Magda wants to back off.  Then events at the hospital force Magda to “pay attention,” in Matilde’s words, and see what’s happening.

The Hinkler sisters seem never to be acting; they simply inhabit their roles, believing them so fully that we must also. As Magda dances on the treadmill, with only her sister and the stage for sustenance, we feel how achingly hard it is to fight for a living — without trying to sort through a blizzard of propaganda and lies. As Matilde dances with her disability, her deep heart and razor wit utterly persuade us that art and life only matter if they can be done honestly.

Ron Sossi’s co-direction has added more anger to the sisters’ clashes over everything from menstrual pads to politics, but the humor and tenderness remain. Janet Schlapkohl’s rewrite lets us see more of Magda’s cabaret routines (accompanied by Barbara Rottman), and expands key moments (the Reichstag fire, for example, has grown from a news item to an event we experience).

But the arc is unchanged. This play makes us love these two women — desperately, already knowing the outcome — hoping they can somehow outwit hatred and overwhelming force.  They cannot. And we then feel some of what was lost, some of the horror of what humans can do — have done and are still doing — to each other.

You really can’t ask anything more of theatre. This important and powerful work, excellently staged and flawlessly performed, is a gift — albeit a difficult, even painful one. Open it and see.
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My Sister, by Janet Schlapkohl, co-directed by Ron Sossi and Paul David Story.
Presented by the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., LA 90025.

Wednesday Feb. 3 and Feb 24 at 8:00;
Thursday Feb. 11 and Feb. 18 at 8:00;
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00, through March 6.

Tickets:  <www.OdyssseyTheatre.com> or (310)477-2055