SUMMIT, NJ – Sisters are often defined as controlled or controlling. That’s the premise of John Kolvenbach’s “Sister Play,” in a deft, smart production at Dreamcatcher Theatre in Summit.

The sisters, Anna and Lilly, have arrived at their father’s deserted, run-down cottage on Cape Cod, along with Anna’s husband Malcolm. He immediately notes that the house smells of mold, filled with memories and the debris of long, lost lives. Bookshelves overflow, the radiator has seen better days, but the liquor is apparently still drinkable.
We sense right away that the sisters have a fun, trusting relationship as they banter back and forth about whatever. But that mood changes later on, when Lilly takes the car and goes off in a huff. She doesn’t return until late at night (with a stranger, no less.)

We learn during the course of the evening that Anna, in a beautifully modulated performance by Laura Ekstrand, worries constantly about her younger sister, ready to bail her out whenever life becomes too complicated.

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So, of course, she is upset when a strange man appears on the scene. Initially, Malcolm thinks he’s an intruder until his sister-in-law walks in the door and explains she has invited him in. Jessica O’Hara-Baker is Lilly, neatly capturing the mixture of rebellion and neediness that keeps her in a push/pull relationship with her sister.
Clark Scott Carmichael is Malcolm, at ease with both women and often the moderator among the various flare-ups. Lilly has met the drifter, William, walking along the road. He’s played with quiet intensity by Jason Szamreta. The tension in the plot sharpens when we begin to wonder what sort of man he is, whether he can be trusted or is he simply a homeless man who will take advantage of the lonely, younger sister.
Anna puts him through his paces, offering him various ‘options,’ which mostly involve leaving her sister along. But we can see that she occasionally overplays her hand, hardly allowing Lilly to make her own mistakes and live her own life.  Yet seeing the family  harmonize with

“Blue Bayou” over wine nicely lightens the mood.

There’s a lot of intrigue as the play evolves and the four actors work flawlessly together. It’s directed with a sure hand by Nicole Callender. The set design by Matt Ward perfectly captures the neglected cottage, augmented by Zach Pizza’s lighting.

“Sister Play,” billed as a ‘dramatic comedy,’ continues through March 6 at Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre, Oakes Center, 120 Morris Ave. in Summit. For tickets, call 908-514-9654 or visit dreamcatcherrep.org.