Review: A Raucous Day at the Beach With ‘The Sisters Macaluso’

Look how much fun the Macaluso girls are having, how well they get along. There they are, ribbing and pinching each other, jostling and laughing. Their hair is wild, their smiles are wide. But, as we discover, their pain, sadness and anger run deep.

It is startling how much the Sicilian writer-director Emma Dante packs into her wondrous, hourlong “The Sisters Macaluso” — though the show, at Montclair State University, remains light on its feet. In quick, deft touches, Ms. Dante evokes a world in which past and present are intricately linked and life and death coexist. This is a fervid memory play where the black of mourning segues into the bright color palette of Palermo, and back again.

The Macalusos are quite a bunch, their faces and bodies bearing the marks of tough lives. Ms. Dante usually keeps them lined up facing the audience so we can always see all seven of them.


Foreground from left, Sandro Maria Campagna and Stéphanie Taillandier as the parents in “The Sisters Macaluso.” Credit Marina Levitskaya

Or maybe there are just six: Something terrible happened on what had started as a glorious day at the beach, when the siblings were fairly young. The sisterhood is strained by recriminations and guilt, yet the women remain close over the decades, because that’s what family does. And the dead remain a presence.

As fleet as it is, the play, which is performed in the Sicilian and Apulian dialects with English supertitles, also has an earthy density. The loudmouth Katia (Leonarda Saffi) clowns for her sisters but also angrily berates their father (Sandro Maria Campagna) for sending her to a vaguely ominous “institute” — “son of a bitch” is among her few printable terms of endearment. But we see why he did what he did, and why it may not have been such a bad thing for Katia: At least she got fed, while the rest of the impoverished family “ate lemons morning, noon and night.”

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