Internal racism in the African-American community is not something that very many people would be comfortable talking about, much less seeing unfold on stage in front of them. Yet the new production by the unflinchingly brave Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective delivers as many laughs as it does thought-provoking moments. Sisters, by Marsha Jackson, isn’t a play about biological connection so much as it is about two young African-American women who are forced to come to terms with their own biases toward one another.
This is a tour de force for Cyd Smith and Kirby Gibson who play two women of color trapped in an office building in Atlanta on New Years Eve, as a freak snowstorm brings the city to a halt around them. Smith’s Olivia is an ad executive who has worked hard and accomplished much. But when she loses a promotion to a white male colleague, she believes her dark complexion is to blame. She is packing up and planning to leave it all behind.
Cassie is lighter-skinned, but unlike successful Olivia, she’s is working for the company as a cleaner. She has a son at home, but the boy’s father is long gone. The only life she knows is one of sacrificing her own ambition in order to take care of the loved ones who need her.
This odd couple pairing leads to friction, as it becomes clear that Olivia and Cassie have little in common, beyond race. Even then, there are issues of status within that race. As the night wears on and truths are shared, a bridge is built. Olivia’s bitter shell cracks, thanks to Cassie’s sassy and snappy attitude.
A two-character performance can break a show if either actor is not up to the challenge of keeping it moving and interesting. Smith and Gibson make it look easy. They live and breath their roles in ways that make you forget you are watching a play. And they make you feel emotionally invested in the outcome for both characters.
Producer and director Steph Hickling Beckman has brought another great show to life for Different Strokes. She has a perfectly cast, tightly directed production that delves into issues of racism while also exploring where two lives intersect and contrast. It’s charming, funny and leaves the audience with a powerful perspective.
Sisters runs through Sunday, Aug. 24, with performances at the BeBe Theatre on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, at 3 p.m. $10-$15. differentstrokesavl.org