Charles Cioffi — who shares above-the-title billing with Mariette Hartley and Caroline Aaron in this efficient national touring company of Wendy Wasserstein’s long-running Broadway hit “The Sisters Rosensweig”– sweeps onto the stage well into Act 1 and immediately rises above efficiency with consummate ease, energizing the entire production.
It wasn’t until after intermission at the performance reviewed that everyone else relaxed into their roles in the way Cioffi had done from the start. The play, a cozily old-fashioned matinee comedy that 1990s Broadway audiences love, had suffered a series of weather-related setbacks: The Feb. 8 New Haven opening was canceled because of snow, the audience at the actual Feb. 9 opening was decimated by further snow, and the Feb. 11 performance was postponed by yet more snow to Feb. 14. Touring this winter ain’t fun.
The physical production for the tour is Broadway-glossy, John Lee Beatty’s London sitting-room set a symphony of floral wallpaper, chintz and brass-and-glass light fixtures. And the entire cast living in this set is immensely likable. But given that the production has been playing since Jan. 5 — starting in Norfolk, Va., and continuing in Pittsburgh and Boston prior toNew Haven on its 18-month tour — it was surprisingly stiff and bland at first.
The Queen Anne’s Gate home in which the play takes place is that of Sara Goode, the twice-divorced Rosensweig sister from New York who is European manager of the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank — and terminally uptight. As Sara, Hartley is handsome and very much in character; perhaps too much so. Director Daniel Sullivan might remind her — and several other cast members — that the play is indeed a comedy. His direction and their performances would do well to give the production more comedic flow. There’s too much awkward standing around being done.
Hartley may, of course, have the most difficult part — a straight role among a handful of characters. She could lighten up her Jewish-American angst. As the middle Rosensweig sister, Dr. Gorgeous, Aaron wisely avoids the ditzy quality Madeleine Kahn, who created the role on Broadway, automatically projects. Instead she plays this most obviously comic role pretty much for real. It pays off well, particularly when Gorgeous ultimately reveals the sad truth about her life.
As the youngest sister, the world-roaming journalist Pfeni, Joan McMurtrey moderates the character’s eccentricity. She too, when at her best, is thoroughlyreal, as is true of Debra Eisenstadt as Sara’s young daughter, Tess.
As Pfeni’s Cambridge-educated theater director lover, Richard Frank was too stereotypically gay in Act 1 at the performance seen, balancing his bisexuality more successfully after the intermission. Both Barry McEvoy as Tess’s working-class Brit boyfriend and Ian Stuart as Sara’s upper-middle-class Brit gentleman caller are fine in their supporting roles.
The national company of “The Sisters Rosensweig” never falls below that level of efficiency. But it could take off more in the freewheeling direction Cioffi is taking it.