THE SISTERS FROM BELZONI, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. At two and a half hours, Creola Thomas's earnest play cries out for editing. Yet it rings true, portraying the limited options and desperate escape mechanisms available to black women in stifling, insular communities. Director Mignon McPherson Nance gives the work a depth that distinguishes it from the Afro-vaudevillian comedic fare that largely accounts for ETA's popularity. Indeed, she seems to have carved a niche for herself as a director of reunion dramas featuring sisters of color in dysfunctional families: McPherson Nance recently staged MPAACT's Sost, about a gathering of three Ethiopian sisters in Evanston.
Set in the 1960s, The Sisters From Belzoni revolves around four women who find themselves living in the house of their deceased mother, the town's round-heeled woman. The sisters--whether scarred, saintly, slutty, or scheming--are forced to confront the impact their mother had on their choices, opportunities, and self-perception. Larniecia Smith runs away with the show in the role of the cocky, carnal sister, Ruby. Terrance Watts--a villain in the Chicago Theatre Company's Cut Flowers--shifts into Jimmy Stewart mode and demonstrates his range as her awkward suitor, Tom. Ethan Henry also distinguishes himself as George, a man longing yet afraid to think for himself.