As one of three sisters, I feel uniquely qualified to review the chaotic choreography of dialogue that constitutes Plano, First Floor Theater’s presentation of the Chicago premiere of Will Arbery’s play, directed by Audrey Francis.
Plano is a story about Anne, Genevieve, and Isabel, three “sisters and friends” with a lot going on, thanks (or no thanks?) to the messy men in their lives: Juan, Steve, and God (represented as a “Faceless Ghost” and played by Andrew Lund), respectively. The cadence of conversation between these three Catholic-raised sisters is slapdash but urgent in delivery, while solutions for what’s discussed are often put off until “later.” Life passes in a continuous, looping conversational style.
As anyone with sisters close in age will tell you, that’s how conversations amongst us go. You listen urgently because you care, but also because you’re perhaps waiting for your turn to talk. This dynamic, as demonstrated between Anne (Elizabeth Birnkrant), Genevieve (Ashley Neal), and Isabel (Amanda Fink), is so authentic that I felt myself getting anxious halfway through the performance, worried I’d perhaps missed a ping from one of my own two sisters.
The Plano sisters’ updates about their lives, all delivered from Genevieve’s front porch, are stretched across space and time through smart staging and the telltale tones of their iPhones, the trill of FaceTime unmistakable (kudos to sound designer Eric Backus) as Anne and Genevieve check in with Isabel. She’s fled to Chicago to do the Lord’s work with women in need, while her two older sisters remain in Texas, worried about their husbands’ multiple personalities that haunt their homes and the streets of Plano. There is a sci-fi, futuristic, and impossible wash to this hypermodern production that works, despite its abject juxtaposition with the pastoral porch setting. There is strobe lighting, modern dance, and honky tonk.
“It’s later now,” is a constant refrain slipped into the run-on dialogue (fans of Gilmore Girls will love this production’s verbal rhythms), and that refrain is the only true marker of the passage of time. The sisters’ exchanges are productive insofar as they are cathartic—these sisters are close and they care for each other—but resolution is fraught, which I appreciated. You don’t need sisters to accept that life is messy and men are unmanageable, let alone multiples of the same disappointing husband. While none of the women are genuinely happy in their respective domestic scenarios (is anyone?), they are happy to have each other. v