Andrea Gordon’s world premiere of “Miriam and Esther go to the Diamond District” at the Magic Theatre blends a fictionalized autobiography, fantasy, opera, and dancing.
The plot line is a predictable siblings-come-together-after-parent-dies tale. Miriam and Esther, daughters of a renowned pianist and opera-singing mother, find themselves back in their childhood home after the recent passing of their stepfather. Despite being estranged for five years, the sisters come together to sort through the remnants of their past, per their stepfather’s wife’s request.
They delve into boxes filled mostly with clothing, while exchanging biting comments and exploring past grievances, hurts, and abandonment. Love letters emerge, shedding light on surprising facts about their father’s secret life. The scene not only lacks passion, but also the intensity expected for such a discovery.
Nina Ball’s innovative set design, featuring an older wood-paneled back wall with faux exits leading to their parents’ room and Esther’s old bedroom, adds depth to the storytelling. The room, adorned with an ’80s white chair, scattered boxes, and a green couch, becomes the backdrop for the sisters’ recollections of Upper East Side parties.
Agile Janet Roitz portrays the youthful, emotional Esther, who occasionally reverts to a pouting child. Older sister, solid Miriam, discerning Ellen Brooks, admits to struggling with alcoholism. She reflects on her reason for leaving her younger sister after her stepfather buys her a diamond necklace for her 16th birthday.
The play takes an intriguing turn with the sudden appearance of the ghost of their diva mother, played by Merrill Grant. Dressed in an exquisite glittering gown, she captivates the audience with her angelic voice and graceful ballet movements. Singing Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro,” she creates a moment of surprise and awe for Esther and the audience. She also sings for Miriam with another touching aria.
The subsequent rhythmic movements and beautiful artistry of Dancer R.L. Welsh, portraying the ghost father, adds another artisic layer. The duet performs in perfect syncopation, reminiscent of “Dancing with the Stars.” While dancing, they unfold the secret of the father’s letter.
Despite these stand-out moments, the play struggles with cohesion. The pieces feel disjointed, failing to blend. While the theme of reconciliation hangs in the air, the resolution of the sisters hugging and promising to stay in touch feels forced. They leave us doubting whether they will ever see each other again.
Gordon’s “Miriam and Esther go to the Diamond District”explores family dynamics, past secrets, and the possibility of reconciliation. But at present, the play lacks an emotionally powerful cohesive thread to truly sparkle.
“Miriam and Esther go to the Diamond District,” Written and Directed by Andrea Gordon, Costumes by Beaver Bouer, Lighting Director Kurt Landisman, Sound Direction, Christopher Sauceda, Produced by Zebra Stripe Productions LLC, at Magic theatre, San Francisco, https://www.magictheatre.org to: January 28, 2024
Cast: Ellen Brooks, Merrill Grant, Janet Roitz, R.L. Welsh
Photos by Marcus Handschen