Playwright Kirsten Greenidge understands the impact of order: birth order, marriage order, and trying to keep order. In her family drama Our Daughters, Like Pillars, she explores the significance of order in three full acts, allowing her characters to leisurely reveal their affecting histories and conflicting hopes for the future.
This was my third viewing of a Huntington Theater play made possible by their digital insurance policy. These offerings are not films, but rather live capture of a singular experience using 10-12 cameras. While nothing can replicate the energy of sharing a performance with an in-person audience, The Huntington’s digital works offer quality productions to those who remain unable to sit in a venue with strangers. All three had exceptionally clear audio. My first of these was the darkly funny Teenage Dick, energetically directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel with a first rate cast. This stream was later shared with the Pasadena Playhouse for an extended run. Next was Toni Morrison’s devastating The Bluest Eye gorgeously adapted by Lydia R. Diamond. Director Awoye Timpo’s swirling camerawork allowed home audiences to better view the characters’ movements around a stage poignantly shaped like a chopped tree stump. With Kimberly Senior’s traditional proscenium staging, Our Daughters, Like Pillars uses more expressive close-ups than shifting angles, but it never loses pacing.
The story revolves around the three Shaw sisters who are vacationing in a house rented by oldest sister Lavinia (Seldes-Kanin fellowship winner Nikkole Salter) and her husband. What should be a celebratory time of togetherness turns increasingly tension-filled as Vinny becomes progressively more controlling of her siblings and their mother. Having felt isolated during the first year of COVID, Vinny’s vision is to have the entire family under one roof on a permanent basis. But though she tries tactical cajoling, needling guilt, and outright manipulation, that goal is not shared either by people-pleasing middle sister Octavia (Arie Thompson) or youngest Zelda (Lyndsay Allyn Cox) who has only just taken her first steps towards independence. We gain a deeper understanding of the siblings through their mother Yvonne (Lizan Mitchell) and their stepmother Missy (Cheryl D. Singleton) who are each given profound fourth-wall breaking monologues. Race and class play important but smaller roles in the script.
While the spotlight is clearly on the women — by turns strong and brittle — it is the two men who supply the softness. Genuine light shines from Julian Parker’s Paul King, Zelda’s casual conquest living by his wits who gets caught up in the whirl of family conflict. And Postell Pringle portrays Vinny’s husband Morris with intensity as he tries to rein in his wife’s darker, more destructive instincts. The set by Marion Williams includes several levels which provides a feeling of movement to the dialogue-heavy drama. The family is tightly contained, with the outside world intruding only through the ringing of a telephone. Costumes by Sarita Fellows add essential color and flow while Jane Shaw’s sound incorporates music from Prince to Sam Cooke.
At 3 ½ hours including two 15 minute intermissions, Our Daughters, Like Pillars, indulges in the kind of rolling storytelling rarely seen since March 2020. It is playing at the Huntington’s Wimberly Theatre in Boston through May 8 and On Demand through May 22. Prices range from $25 – $99. For tickets and information visit https://www.huntingtontheatre.org/plays-and-events/.