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Sibling rivalry roars at Venus Theatre's 'Grieving for Genevieve'

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If you thought your family was dysfunctional, wait until you meet the Pecks in Venus Theatre's new production, "Grieving for Genevieve."

Set in a working-class neighborhood in Baltimore, the play revolves around three sisters and their mother, who come together for the middle sister's wedding.

The bride-to-be, Delilah, is getting married for the third time. Played by Ty Hallmark, who studied at the Studio Theatre in Washington and the Globe Theatre in London, Delilah is not your girl next door. She's loud, curses like a sailor, drinks a lot and stomps around the stage, pushing anyone aside — literally — who gets in her way. She's an impatient Girl Scout leader overseeing the distribution of the cookies, an erotic apparel designer and a member of a rock band.

After yelling and doing a body flash at her ex-boyfriend who had just done a drive by, Delilah says it was her fiancé's idea to get married and have a wedding.

"I've been there, done that and got the T-shirt," she says. "Being married is hard. You have to remember to come home at night and not sleep with other people."

When Delilah's older sister, Danni, arrives, the action goes off the chart. Danni, played by Venus Theatre founder Deborah Randall, is the only sister who left Baltimore and has a college degree. She's struggling in New York City, where she repairs guitars for a living. There is an intense rivalry between the two sisters, which often escalates into physical fights as well as food- and object-throwing matches as they stalk each other and stomp around the stage angrily throughout most of the production.

"You think I'm stupid. …I have a home and a business," Delilah says, referring to the fact that even though she did not go to college like Danni did, she can support herself and doesn't have to borrow money from their mother and not pay it back, as Danni has done.

Randall appears very comfortable and relaxed in the role of Danni, wearing black high-top boots and large black glasses. Danni has not been home in a few years and has come home not so much to celebrate her sister's wedding, but to rid herself of what she feels is her mother's rein over her life.

"I'm here to put her out of my misery," Danni says. "Why is she happy when I can't breathe?"

"It's so much fun and liberating playing a character and being in a cast with characters who have no apologies or shame," Randall said.

Karen Costanzi, a writer and former community college theater teacher, is believable as Genevieve, the chain-smoking, domineering matriarch of the Peck clan. Genevieve drives her daughters nuts by giving them unsolicited advice and does what she wants to, which includes smoking in Delilah's home when she's asked not to and sewing the wedding headpieces and Danni's bridesmaid dress to her tastes.

But Genevieve has a protective nature when it comes to sister number three, Angel, a meek and anxiety-riddled nun. Played by Kelsey Painter, just off Venus Theatre's last production, "Following Sarah," Angel gets pushed around a lot by Delilah, and secretly drinks as much beer as her sisters and mother do.

However, her conscience kicks in whenever she smokes a cigarette and she crosses herself every time she lights up. Painter does a great job of portraying a person who obviously needs therapy.

In the midst of the never-ending drama, the play does have many light moments, such as when Angel admits to her family that she smokes.

"I used a patch, but when I smoked, it made me sick," Angel says. "I worry too much. They (the other nuns at the convent) think I have an ulcer. What kind of a nun has an ulcer?"

The play's setting is indicative of the chaotic lives of the Peck sisters and their mother. It consists of a messy dining room area, with a hodge-podge of items scattered around the room and Girl Scout cookie boxes stacked untidily against one wall. As a musician, Delilah has guitars hung on the walls and to represent the type of music she plays, popular rock music is played between breaks in the action.

"Grieving for Genevieve" was written by New York City-based playwright Kathleen Warnock, who said the play is a product of a workshop she took some years ago under award-winning playwright Tina Howe.

When asked how she came up with the idea for the play, Warnock, who has three sisters and a brother, said with a laugh, "It's all true but none of it happened."

The only other production of "Grieving for Genevieve" was in a workshop theatre in New York in 2005. After seeing the Venus Theatre production this weekend, Warnock said she was pleased with director Randall's take on the play.

"The actor choices were great and the actors really worked their roles," she said. "When Deb (Randall) said she wanted to be in it, I knew she was really committed to doing a great job with it."

Warnock said she plans to tinker with the script a bit more, with her goal being to bring it to off-Broadway someday.

"Grieving for Genevieve" continues through June 30 at Venus Theatre, 21 C St. For tickets, go to the online box office web.ovationtix.com or call 202-236-4078.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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