Playwright: Maria Burnham. At: Strangeloop Theatre, Berger Park North Mansion, 6219 N. Sheridan Rd. Tickets: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2502445; $18. Runs through: May 14
Playwrights have been fascinated with unmarried sisters for 2,500 years. Consider: The Suppliants ( Aeschylus ), Three Sisters ( Chekhov ), The House of Bernarda Alba ( Garcia Lorca ) and Nunsense ( just kidding ). Maria Burnham follows the thread in Mitera ( Greek for "mother" ), her world premiere about three Greek-heritage sisters living in present-day small-town Mississippi. The locale and ethnicity match Burnham's own upbringing, but only are window dressing for Mitera, which might just as readily concern sisters of any heritage, anywhere in the United States.
In ascending order of age, sisters Dimitra ( Lilly Apostolou ), Nitsa ( Holly Robinson ) and Olga ( shout-out to Three Sisters ) range from mid-20s to mid-30s. Their Greek-born mother has just died ( American dad is long gone ), leaving them considerable property in Mississippi as well as family lands in Greece. But there's a catch: Mom's will says Dimitra must marry or the sisters lose everything to a male cousin back in Greece. Why Dimitra has to marry and not either older sister isn't really made clear, except that Olga ( Allison McCorkle ) long ago resigned herself to being caretaker for mom and housekeeper for all, leaving her with ample reserves of bitterness and resentment.
Olga now reveals she's gay, and the siblings weigh the merits of an arranged hetero marriage vs. marrying for love ... if the Supreme Court clears the way in Mississippi. The court does, and Act II is Dimitra and Megan's wedding day upon which contingency heir Dimitris ( Michael Wagman ) arrives from Greece to threaten the marriage and seize the U.S. property. He's in cahoots with Nitsaup 'til now, seemingly supportive of Olgaalthough the exact logistics of their plan aren't quite clear. There's blackmail involving Dimitra's cellphone and earlier indiscretions; counter-blackmail by the girls' supportive godmother, Sharon ( Patricia Tinsley ); and a tender heart-to-heart between Olga and Dimitra. Sexist cousin Dimitris is sent packing fairly easily, as Mitera concludes with the sisters standing in solidarity.
It's an appealing play that would be much better if Burnham fully committed herself to the comedy inherent in its plot, having more fun with Greek stereotypes, sisterly rivalries, the smarmy artificial villain, the wily godmother, etc. She could shorten that heart-to-heart scene, too, as it stops the play's forward motion in Act II, and makes its point well before it concludes. Nitsa needs an expository scene as well.
It's a nice production, as directed by Letitia Guillaud in the extremely cozy living room of Berger Park's Gunderson Mansion, which we share with the actors in fly-on-the-wall intimacy. However, this close environment also suppresses the comedic impulse, as humorfunny lines and businesscannot be exaggerated or even pointed up very much. A production that allows Mitera to be bigger might also allow it to be funnier.