“Fasten your seatbelts—it’s gonna be a bumpy night!” Bette Davis’s classic line from All About Eve applies equally to – and provides the title of – Seatbelts Required, a new play by Kimberly Demmary, now playing at The Actors Workout Studio.
Seatbelts has three half-sisters gathering at their mother’s house (depicted in classical middle America kitsch by set designer Brian Graves) shortly after her funeral. Over the next two hours, they reminisce about growing up together in that house and the unique relationship each one shared with the dearly departed. In the tradition of good theater, however, this simple premise is layered with a rich back story which unravels at a natural and non-linear pace, taking the characters and the audience on a roller coaster ride of highs and lows.
What makes the journey so enjoyable (for the audience, if not for the characters) is Demmary’s realistic dialogue and believable characters as well as the fine direction of John Barker and an accomplished cast of Cynthia Manous, Elizabeth Kimball and Chelsea Pitillo playing the three sisters as unique but never stereotyped personalities.
As the play begins, two of the sisters fight over whether the lights should be turned on or whether the house should be left dimly lit, as they remember it during their mother’s lifetime. This metaphor continues throughout the play as the three struggle with themselves and each other whether to guard deeply rooted secrets or to risk reopening old wounds by laying them bare. During the entire play, which is performed in real time (the only gap being a ten-minute passage of time during the ten-minute intermission), the sisters each find plenty of opportunity to play the victim, in light of the greenness of her siblings’ grass, and exhibit the usual dynamics of siblings – squabbling, overreacting, giggling at inside jokes – all the while peeling the onion down to the core of the underlying tension.
My only significant criticism is Demmary’s succumbing to the urge of so many playwrights, to save the biggest twists and turns, like a roller coaster, for the end, leaving the rider thunder-struck and gasping for breath. I understand the need for a dramatic denouement, but having each sister wait for the final ten minutes to come clean with her big secret reeked of theatricality, compromising the natural flow so tenderly nurtured during the first hour and fifty minutes.