Four Sisters at Luminato plays with time and delivers some hope
by Carly Maga
published by Toronto Star on June 14, 2019, 3.5 out of 4 stars
Four Sisters is the much-anticipated culmination of Susanna Fournier’s Empire Trilogy, the third play produced in about seven months.
The whole project, as with most works of art, has an interesting relationship with timelines; its own nine-year history doesn’t take into account the time Fournier spent watching Star Wars as a kid; the hours it took Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder to create The Magic Flute; or the generations impacted by this country’s colonial history, all of which contributed to the creation of the Empire Trilogy.
It’s fitting then that with the final piece of the puzzle Fournier messes with the concept of time altogether in a dense but emotionally satisfying conclusion.
Four Sisters follows the preceding stories The Philosopher’s Wife and The Scavenger’s Daughter, jumping ahead hundreds of years from where we left off — it’s connected but not dependent on the first two works.
Sarah (Beatriz Pizano), whom we met in The Scavenger’s Daughter as the daughter of a drug-addicted brothel madam, is now 297 years old, living in “The Skirts” of the Empire’s capital, once the city’s popular red light district and now a community of the marginalized, poor and sick, after a Plague hit the area.
Sarah’s four girls are Plague-positive, and when an up-and-coming doctor offers the family an experimental treatment Sarah’s decision places everyone in a high-stakes, constantly evolving dynamic involving science, addiction, appropriation, the boundary between codependency and love, the boundary between sisterly and romantic love, power, mortality and life, as any story about colonialism and oppression would.
But in a continuation of Fournier’s experimentation with theatrical style as well as content Four Sisters uses movement, choreographed by Amanda Acorn, to make the bodies of her performers more powerful tools.
All performers remain onstage and, because some characters are played by different people at different points in their lives, it’s as if all timelines are washing and mixing together before our eyes.
The nine-member cast’s movements are constantly fracturing, mirroring, reflecting and refracting with and against each other, like we’re watching a play inside a prism that organizes timelines into separate but simultaneous streams (like me, other fans of the film Annihilation might see this too).
But don’t worry, the actors introduce themselves and who they play at the start, so it’s more like a kaleidoscope than a brain teaser to keep track of the interplay of bodies and names and times.
Their uniforms of grey sweatpants and sweaters are surprisingly effective at letting each actor’s individuality come through: Ximena Huizi’s undercut hair, Claudia Moore’s childlike bounce, Bea Pizano’s sturdiness as the matriarch.
Kaitlin Hickey’s scenography uses emptiness and uniformity to emphasize the isolation of the play’s setting, a limbo that time forgot.
The heightened physicality in Four Sisters’ storytelling sometimes competes with the other elements that Fournier has included, like Steph Raposo’s video design, played on an old TV set (an interesting antique in this setting hundreds of years in the future), and Fournier’s text itself, which veers from startlingly stark to overwritten.
There are moments of overwhelming action and then powerful simplicity. (Chala Hunter runs in circles around the stage; the only actor to appear in more than one Empire Trilogy play after her role as the titular Philosopher’s Wife, her presence here is doubly impactful.)
Ultimately, Fournier delivers a finale that echoes and resists its beginning in resounding ways. Where The Philosopher’s Wife was about a man’s desire to control wildness with education and order, Four Sisters gives up control (narratively, physically, historically) to restore a bit of hope to a dark world, both the fictional one it inhabits and the real one that’s watching it now.