TWO SISTERS MEND THEIR WAYS IN THE STUNNING ‘BALD SISTERS’
THE SAN JOSE STAGE COMPANY CELEBRATES THEIR NEW 41ST SEASON WITH THE WEST COAST PREMIERE VICHET CHUM’S PLAY ABOUT TWO SISTERS WHO DISCOVER HEALING AND DISCOVERING THEIR FAMILIES CAMBODIAN HERITAGE AND THEIR AMERICAN DREAM
Review by Vince Mediaa
The San Jose Stage opened their 2023 - 24 season with a brilliant production of Vichet Chum’s BALD SISTERS. The family's home is now open at the 1st Street stage in San Jose only through October 8th. Directed by Jeffery Lo, this play was a late addition to the 41st season, Lo had to cast this beautiful production on short notice, and the cast he chose is stunning. BALD SISTERS First staged at Chicago’s award honored Steppenwolf makes its West Coast premiere. Randall King, Artistic Director says “The story originated from its development at the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre, where it received its world premiere during an extended run in early 2023. Vichet Chum’s new work deeply resonates with our search for the power of connection, the freedom that comes from embracing our individual personal stories, and a wonderful celebration of our shared human journey.”
The story tells of a mother “Ma'' played by the marvelous Keiko Carreiro a Cambodian refugee who escaped the horrible terror of the Kmer Rouge with her daughter, and made a new life in the States. Ma had a second daughter in the U.S. The flawless Nicole Tung plays the older sister “Him” and the splendid Rinabeth Apostol plays Sophea youngest daughter born in the States. Story opens with a scene in the hospital bed of Ma, still foul-mouthed and strong in spirit as she passes with her daughter at her bedside. Ma is dead; now what happens. The two sisters, at odds since birth, need to settle their anger and bury their wise cracking mother. “Blink once for burial, Blink twice for a funeral, Blink thrice if you hate my guts” says Him.
Him has reached out to her younger sister to put Ma to rest. The two sisters have a lot of stress between them. Him is dealing with cancer and chemo she wears a scarf to hide her baldness. Sophea arrives with a new short hair cut and zen type clothing. We also meet Him’s husband played by local favorite Will Springhorn Jr as Nate who is a local minister. Him also has hired a gardener Seth who joins the story; the superb Zaya Kolia plays the young buff college guy who is only there to support Him. Seth's Middle Eastern and Muslim heritage showed that Chum is at home writing any type of character. Seth sings a Muslim song of mourning that transcends language and is very moving.
Chum’s characters represent classic dysfunctional families who are fully dimensional. Director Lo gives the actors fast pace moving language and this cast delivers. Lo keeps the pace in real time, even as the spirit of Ma enters the home or we see a flashback. Maurice Vercoutere Lighting Design is very moving, using mood pools of light when the spirit of Ma enters the scene. Mother Ma has a naughty sprite who has put all the bad memories behind. Carreiro is confident as she brings some comic moments to the story. She speaks her mind Ma says her most pointed lines “ I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to,” and the audience is ready for her next zinger “you bitch”. Ma the matriarch whose sudden death has turned the sisters' world upside-down.
Ma directs the insults at her eldest daughter, Him who escaped with her from Cambodia. Him and Sophea plan the funeral and clash recalling hurtful memories. Him has a darker view of the world, while the younger sister Sophea born in the states has had an easier Gen Z path. Sophea was spared the trauma of Him’s past as a refugee and her sister's cancer. But Sophea wants to discover her culture, find her roots by meditation and eastern zen. Him has genderfide into U.S. culture, happy with her white Christian minister and her eye candy gardener.
Springhorn as Him’s husband Nate, is likable and is the perfect minister with a beer in his hand and finding lost socks. The set by Christopher Fitzer is a living room kitchen and fills the stage with a homie look. Scattered boxes and a refrigerator full of cold beer. Becky Bodurtha Costume Design is colorful for Sofie and Him always wearing a scarf on her head from the chemo. Steve Schoebeck Sound design calls for some nice set up Cambodian music and later a fun karaoke vibe. The video design by Spenser Matubang adds to the open window light moods and the karaoke session where the audience is asked to join. Patrick Chew Dialectis the Language and Cultural Consultant and Alexa Burn Stage Manager keeps Ma spirit on cue as she enters from all sides of the San Jose Stage.
With impressive performances and a deep telling of a family journey BALD SISTERS is “must see” theater. The biggest star is the story and script by Vichet Chum’s immigration American Dream and a playwright who is Broadway bound.
SAN JOSE STAGE COMPANY Presents
West Coast Premiere of
By Vichet Chum
Directed by Jeffrey Lo
Nicole Tung, Rinabeth Apostol, Keiko Carreiro,
Will Springhorn Jr. and Zaya Kolia
Must close October 8, 2023
San Jose Stage Company
490 S 1st Street, San Jose, CA 95113
RUNNING TIME: 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.
TICKETS: $34 - $74 at http://www.thestage.org/tickets
Photos by DAVE LEPORI
The play is based on Chum’s own life "I always wanted to write a play about the Cambodian women in my life my Ma my Mings"