Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
In the summer of 1969, the Bradshaw sisters return to their childhood home in Washington, DC, after burying their brother who died in Vietnam. Olive (Roz White) is a college professor who took care of their father after their mother died; Marsha (Kara-Tameika Watkins) has a comfortable, if not always fulfilling, life with her husband in Ohio; and Irene (Ayana Reed) is a recent college graduate and budding activist. They have a lot of history together and some long-held secrets from each other, and as the house is about to be sold, they need to hash things out now.
Three Sistahs differs from more traditional musicals in that most of its songs are brief and interwoven with dialogue; few of them have a traditional ending that sets up applause. That said, the highlights are White's lusty "Barely Breathing" and the rousing hymn "In My Father's House."
Jones and Pryce have crafted a story that illuminates the life of a middle-class African-American family. The sisters grew up in different places as their father was a West Point graduate and career Army officer; their mother held the family together when he was on active duty. The greatest tragedy of brother Andre's death is that he only went to Vietnam because his father expected him to. Marsha considers herself the daughter closest to their father and clings to his sense of honor, while Irene rages that they lost their brother for no good reason.
White has appeared in all four productions of the work (2002, 2007, 2014, and 2019), previously as Marsha and now as Olive, and brings a majesty and commitment to her performance. Watkins convinces as Marsha tries to find joy amid the sorrow, and ultimately realizes some truths about herself, and Reed sizzles with purpose as she sets out to make a difference.
Musicians William Knowles (piano), Yusef Chisholm (bass), and Greg Holloway (drums) also accompanied the 2014 production and show a deep familiarity with the score.