Thursday September 01, 2016
Carole Vasta Folley has a way with words and this time the Vermont playwright is using them to tell the story of two sisters who meet to sort through their parents’ belongings. The writer, who is also the assistant editor at The Other Paper, is bringing her newest play, The Seymour Sisters, to Burlington’s Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center Black Box Theater, September 8 through 11. The drama, which examines the complexity of adult sibling relationships through estranged sisters Eleanor and Cecile, is a touching, sometimes funny, and provocative ode to the seemingly obligatory bonds of family.
Vasta Folley says she was intrigued by how sisters manage their relationships when they are in their 40s and older, saying, “I know many people who are best friends with their sisters and others who no longer see their sibling at all. It made me wonder whether we are supposed to be close just because we are related. And, if so, how does one navigate that relationship, especially when it isn’t always smooth sailing.”
The Seymour Sisters, which asks these questions and more, has been honed throughout the summer with a tour supported by a grant awarded the playwright from the Vermont Arts Endowment Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation. Vasta Folley used the tour, which had stops in Bradford, Springfield, Stowe, and Waitsfield, as an on-the-road workshop of sorts, continually honing the material, though editing and experimentation. In addition, each venue held a Q&A with the audience. “It’s been a real gift to hear what people have to say about the play. One gentleman told me the story could have been about him and his brother; that The Seymour Sisters was his story too,” says Vasta Folley, adding, “I think people relate to the challenge of family relationships and, at our age, the task of having to go through your deceased parents’ belongings.”
The Seymour Sisters is Vasta Folley’s first drama. Local audiences will be familiar with her comedies, Pronouncing Glenn, The Family of Ewe, and last year’s Alumni Pie. A storyteller at heart, the Vermont playwright’s trademarks are quirky but believable characters and dynamically rich scenarios full of heart and humor. Her creation of The Seymour Sisters began when she challenged herself to write a play with only two characters and no set, a test that resulted in her most intimate work to date.
Originally developed in 2015 when the playwright was the recipient of The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts Vermont Artist’s Space Grant, Vasta Folley says, “These characters took their first steps in the Flynn’s third floor Hoehl studio.” She reports that the Flynn grant substantially changed how she works. “It gave me the space to be in the ambiguity, and often discomfort, of not-knowing. It taught me that exploration is where authenticity, insight, and epiphany can be found.”
Although The Seymour Sisters tackles mature themes, it does so with Vasta Folley’s keen sense of humor. “Comedy is my milieu. Even when I write a drama, there will always be laughter involved as it’s the balm that makes the tough stuff manageable,” says the playwright. “I love the perfect imperfection of the human condition.
Janet Stambolian of Girls Nite Out Productions, which has produced two of the playwright’s works, says of The Seymour Sisters, “Carole steps courageously into territory that is at once heartbreaking and universal. But she doesn’t stop there; it is also really, truly funny.”
Beyond writing and directing the drama, Vasta Folley plays Cecile, the sister who sets up the meeting to reconnect with her sister Eleanor, although she fails to say so directly. As Cecile retorts in the play, “When in our family do we ever say what we mean?” Vasta Folley reports that the process of reworking the material within one of the characters has been “an intense and intimate experience and very informative to the writing process.” She adds, “Although this play is fiction, it draws emotionally from my own life, so it truly has been my privilege and challenge to tell this story.”
Robin Owens plays Eleanor, the third role she has originated in a Vasta Folley production. According to the playwright, she has been instrumental in the development of the drama. Vasta Folley describes Owens as having a natural ability for authenticity and grit. She adds, “We’ve worked so closely together, I think it’s safe to say we’ve become sisters of sorts, in each other’s face and heart, just where sisters often reside.”
For Owens, she describes the role of Eleanor as “a gift few actors ever have the privilege of giving life to”, saying, “It has been a life changing, thought-provoking, and unparalleled experience.”
Vasta Folley says of her newest play, “I never expected The Seymour Sisters to go where it does - both, at times, so amusing it makes me laugh out loud and other times so tender, it moves me deeply. I fell in love with these women and their story. I hope the audience does too.”
The Seymour Sisters, Main Street Landing’s Black Box Theater, 60 Lake Street, Burlington, VT. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, September 8, 9 & 10, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, September 11, 3 p.m. Mature themes. For more info, visit flynntix.org and The Seymour Sisters on Facebook.