A blank stage and a few boxes are all that is needed to tell a magical tale of Sisters of Ellery Hollow. The audience is welcomed to the mysterious Ellery Hollow by sisters Abby (Melissa Marie Hmelnicky) and Elsie (Rachel Holt) who proceed to talk about their strange lives. As they point out, they are well known for their storytelling.
Billed as a “tall tale”, the raconteurs weave a supernatural tale of life, death, alienation, race and mystery. You are the girls’ guest in their world as they make eye contact with the crowd throughout the story. There was not one moment in the hour-long play when I was not completely fascinated by their words.
The script, written by local playwright Stephen Spotswood, is an exercise in the art of storytelling and relies heavily on Hmelnicky and Holt’s talent. The play hinges on Spotwood’s words and their delivery. The audience is left to picture the world of Ellery Hollow in their head while the actresses’ lines and actions play out on stage. Director Jennifer John did a wonderful job of directing the movements on stage, which seem natural and add to the story.
Starting with the story of the Elsie and Abby’s mother, the girls tell the story of their lives. The unearthly tale involves a witch with glowing skin, a woman turned into a weeping willow and children being born from seeds. There are many elements of human truth behind the unbelievable. The girls are alienated and bullied in school. Everyone seems to know everyone else in the small town. They are trapped.
What is Ellery Hollow? From the script, we know it is a small town located in a deep valley. Abby and Elsie’s mother longed to leave but could not. In fact almost everyone who attempts to escape perishes in the journey out of the valley or wanders back into town, defeated, several days later. One of the girls’ school friends is so desperate to leave she actually ties hundreds of balloons to her body in order to fly away.
Hmelnicky and Holt’s acting is exceptional. They exude the charisma, enthusiasm and, at times the fleeting sadness, of the characters. It is extremely difficult to sustain an audience’s imagination for an hour with a story but they excel.
The play is full of symbolism and hints at a darker meaning. There are several ways the work can be interpreted and appreciated. It is a great story with or without subtext and would be enjoyed by children as well.
Everyone in the production of “Sisters of Ellery Hollow” is immensely gifted. It is a must-see.
You have 3 more chances to catch the show at The Apothecary, 1013 7th Street NW, Washington, DC.
Kate gives this our top rating, making it a Pick of the Fringe.