Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Sisters In Law: The Notorious RBG and Sandra Day O'Connor arrive on the Phoenix Theatre Company Stage

Eileen T’Kaye and Laura Wernette
photo by Reg Madison Photography
by Haddi Meyer

It is very rare that you meet actresses who truly embody their characters, body and soul, but Eileen T’Kaye and Laura Wernette are the spitting images of the iconic supreme court justices they portray in Sisters in Law. 

This world premiere play by Jonathan Shapiro is based on Linda Hirshman's biography "Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World" and runs at the Phoenix Theatre Company through April 28.

Both T’Kaye and Wernette have been acting or directing or otherwise involved with theatre their entire lives, from T’Kaye producing new works in L.A, to Wernette acting on screen and on stage.

“Theatre and that live engagement, it’s what I live for. You feel a huge responsibility whenever you’re doing, you know a real-life want to honor them, and you don’t want to impersonate them,” T’Kaye said of Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and her polar opposite, Sandra Day O’Connor, portrayed by Wernette.

“You also have a responsibility to make it theatrical. This is kind of (a look) inside behind closed doors, so it's not something that we see. You also have to have a little bit of license, in turn, to show what you imagined them to be behind closed doors”

Both women described the women they portray as brilliant and wickedly funny, and I could say the same of both T’Kaye and Wernette. Looking at them, even out of their costumes, I really got the sense that they knew RBG and Sandra Day.

They both researched heavily, between consuming any available material on them, to Wernette attending the Sandra Day O’Connor institute luncheon and grabbing an advanced copy of Evan Thomas’s biography, "First: Sandra Day O’Connor."

“I'm just in awe of how she was able to manage family and be this amazing trailblazer,” Wernette said of O’Connor, “what I found really interesting as well is she cooked for her clerk. She knew their personal lives, she knew how to touch the human and she truly cared about those around her.”

“She was really very, very, wickedly funny,” Wernette laughed.

“Much more outwardly than Ruth,” T’Kaye added.

“Ruth has so many different sides to her,” T’Kaye said, “I mean, she's really rather quiet and shy and she learned from her mother to always be a lady and to never yell, and really just to sway by her intellect.”

Of the show itself, Wernette said, “it is taking two very intelligent, very strong women, throwing them into a room together and seeing what comes out. The way they were the idealist and the pragmatist, coming together in finding common ground.”

“They never stop trying to persuade, to open up to each other's ways of thinking. Often you know they were at opposite ends on many issues. But, they also, in many ways, wanted a lot of the same things in terms of women's rights,” T’Kaye went on to add. She said that there are lessons in civility to learn from these women’s dynamic styles.

“What was great is that in today's world a lot of times we are not open to each other's opinions. And this is a great reminder that you must listen and keep trying to talk and at least understand, even if you don't agree, and give respect to the other person.”

Now halfway through the run of this show, Wernette says the play “keeps the audience on their toes.”

“It’s extremely entertaining and really brings out the humanity in these women, as well as their intellect and their legal arguments.”

“And it’s funny,” T’Kaye agreed, “(it) keeps your sense of humor.”

“Come and bring people that you wanna have a really good conversation with afterward,” T’Kaye said, “This is the kind of theatre that makes you think, and hopefully makes you want to open yourself up to more conversation, and I think that is what theatre at it’s best can do.”

Sisters In Law runs until April 28th at The Phoenix Theatre Company.

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