By Alex Russell
“Girls of Madison Street,” a Bold New Works original play, had its captivating, sure-footed premiere this past Saturday at Creative Cauldron.
Written and directed by Iyona Blake, “Girls of Madison Street” is a two-act production that examines the private and interpersonal struggles of four very different sisters following the passing of their mother, Hazel.
Hazel’s daughters — Nadine, career-centered and strong-willed; Ingrid, a pious and dedicated mother; Kimberly, an empathetic and intelligent professor; and Leah, a spirited and caring adopted sibling — argue, keep secrets, share laughs and stories, and ultimately prove that some bonds are strong enough to weather those particular trials that at the time may seem endless and insurmountable.
Kicking off right after the funeral service, a period of acclimation, turmoil, and self-discovery ensues for each sister, taking them on a bumpy journey laden with doubt, guilt, fear, lies, and eventually gratitude, grace, and renewed faith in themselves and one another.
A large portion of the dialogue had a very strong, musical cadence — probably due in large part to Blake’s background in musical theater. Beyond what was said, the unsaid things — expressed through quick, yet specific hand motions, head tilts, turns — added humanity and naturalism to every scene.
The core location — a cozy, warmly-lit, lived-in kitchen — was occupied with light wooden cabinets, a yellow kitchen towel, yellow curtains, and a white tablecloth; a series of uplifting, soft-colored items that would at intervals visually connect with specific pieces of an actor’s wardrobe, creating an alluring, rhythmic synergy between written character and visual expression.
The blocking in many key junctions was especially well-crafted, making sure to utilize the characters’ differences in height, gait, and clothing style to continually communicate information to the viewer.
How one character stood in relation to another, or how one character would move from one spot to the next, was a welcome and exciting level of story-telling nuance.
The sparse but well-placed use of sound effects and music ensured a streamlined, briskly-paced production; the lighting set up did not employ any fancy tricks or maneuvers but was instead graceful, inventive, and complimented the action with pitch-perfect attention to the emotional content of each scene.
The play, above all else, engages with the idea of family bond vs. personal identity, giving each sister her own emotional arc — underscored by change, growth, and self-knowledge over the course of two acts, often pivoting on painful or difficult memories or events.
Utilizing some brief instances of soliloquy, as well as a beautiful, book-end rendition of “Amazing Grace” sung by the four sisters, Blake uncovered the music in day-to-day human living as seen through the lens of the lives of the Mullins sisters.
Each of their mannerisms, clothing and hairstyles, and manners of speaking reflected four different, complex, strong-willed personalities. In the end, though, it was the vocal work of the four leading actresses that stuck with me the most.
By the end of the play, I could distinctly hear each sister’s tone, control, and emotional resonance as they sang their parts, with everything coalescing into a powerful, layered, glowing rendition of the classic hymnal.
“Girls of Madison Street,” while having its share of genuine laughs, reveals, and heartfelt, intimate moments, is above all a genuine product brought to life by artists and craftspeople whose passion for and understanding of the material guarantees not only a pleasurable, memorable theatrical experience, but a meaningful study of the self and a heightened awareness of the bonds and connections that exist among siblings and best friends.