In its early years, the Henry Street Settlement’s Neighborhood Playhouse was a center of interdisciplinary artistic ferment, bringing together innovative art, theater, dance, and literature. Lo and behold, a century later, the playhouse — now one of the home venues of the intrepid Abrons Arts Center — remains a leading producer of vanguard live art in a city that offers plenty of competition for the title. Basil Twist’s Sisters’ Follies: Between Two Worlds, commemorating the playhouse’s centennial, stereoscopically combines these two historical moments with affectionate parody and superabundant spectacle.
Narrating the piece are the hovering wraiths of Irene and Alice Lewisohn — the indefatigable sibling duo that founded the playhouse — portrayed by icons of the downtown present: Joey Arias and Julie Atlas Muz. But this history lesson is just a pretext for the main menu: ornate historical camp. Abetted by Twist’s inventive direction and unparalleled puppetry, the sisters transpose themselves into a series of outrageous period pageants based on the exoticist locales of early playhouse experiments: a gruesome ancient Egyptian banquet, a midnight druidical rite, a lush rendition of S. Ansky’s mysterious The Dybbuk.
The piece has its longueurs; the sibling backchat between sequences isn’t nearly as enjoyable as the big production numbers it introduces. But throughout, yesterday’s experiments and today’s experimenters merrily coexist, reminding us that the quest for new forms is a venerable NYC tradition.
Sisters’ Follies: Between Two Worlds
Created and directed by Basil Twist
Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street