Rarely has a relatively short (70 minutes) piece of theater touched on as many sides of life as “Le Sorelle Macaluso (The Sisters Macaluso)” does. This piece – written and directed by Emma Dante of Palermo, Italy, and now being presented by her Compagnia Sud Costa Occidentale at the Kasser Theater at Montclair State University, as part of the Peak Performances series — ranges from graceful ballet to crass clowning, evoking everything from childish joy to devastating grief along the way. It’s a daring and remarkable work.
Seven actresses play seven sisters in this work, which is making its U.S. premiere at Montclair State. There are also two male actors (one plays the sisters’ father; another, one of the sisters’ sons ) and another female actor, who plays their mother. The dialogue is in Sicilian and Apulian dialects, but there are English supertitles.
“Le Sorelle Macaluso” doesn’t just evoke the variety of life, as mentioned above, but also the rhythm of life: the way a family adapts to tragedy, and survives. Those who are able to help offer assistance to those who need it. People die, or suffer setbacks, but the family perseveres.
At the beginning of the piece, the sisters, dressed in black, march around the stage relentlessly, yet every so often one or more of the actors breaks off from the pack, asserting her individuality or simply unable to go on. The marchers adjust, and keep moving. It’s all intricately choreographed, making “Le Sorelle Macaluso,” in some ways, as much a work of dance as it is a work of theater.
Eventually, the sisters stop marching, and stand at the front of the stage, shoulder to shoulder. They take off their black clothes to reveal colorful dresses.
Much of the action concerns the sisters, now adults, recalling something from their childhood: A day they took a trip to the beach that looms large in their collective memory. The story is told, and the distinct personality of each sister is made clear.
We see the sisters as individuals, dealing with the hands that fate dealt them, or what they’ve brought on themselves. (Their parents have their own story, too. The actors who play them dance around the stage, at times, absorbed in each other, almost oblivious to their children.) But the most profound thing about “Le Sorelle Macaluso” is the way it allows us to see the sisters functioning, despite their differences, like a single organism.
There are no long soliloquies in the dialogue. The sisters are constantly mixing it up with each other, interrupting each other, reacting to what the others’ say. And as you watch them stand together at the front of the stage, it almost feels like you’re watching a chorus line.
Everyone doesn’t move in unison, like they do on a chorus line. In fact, there’s a bit of chaos to how they move, and what they say. Yet everyone plays a part in story that unfolds, and when anything happens to one of them, all are affected.
Remaining performances of “Le Sorelle Macaluso (The Sisters Macaluso)” take place Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 19 at 3 p.m. Visit peakperfs.org.