“Sisters In Law” – Phoenix Theatre

Theater Review – April 19, 2019


Mainstage Theatre, The Phoenix Theatre Company
Phoenix, AZ

“Sisters In Law,” a world premiere play at Phoenix Theatre, tells the story of Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg when they both served on the nation’s highest court from 1993 to 2012.  Audiences learn many things about the two justices but the play, adapted from Linda Hirshman’s book, is a tame look at the ideological differences that separated the first two women to serve on the Supreme Court.

The play tells a lot about the pair but it does it in civilized debates when the two judges must have had more spirited discussions when their views on cases differed.  It’s an exceedingly polite debate about the two justices who both possessed very different approaches to the law and how to interpret it.

The two performers who portray the pair add special spark and insightful interactions about the cases that playwright Jonathan Shapiro choose to explore.  Some of the cases seemed to be the kind that would allow the two strongly opinioned justices to take stands against each other.  The one thing that is clear from “Sisters In Law” is that O’Connor was a dogmatic person who had to work harder than Ginsburg to divorce her own feelings and views from influencing her decisions and who struggled more with her prejudices in debating and concluding cases.  Ginsburg was less emotional and more grounded in the intellectual aspects of each case and the resolution.

They both had strong feelings about their place in opening doors for women in the judiciary and O’Connor constantly belittled Ginsburg about her outwardly boisterous support of women’s equality.  Ginsburg had to pull O’Connor along about their importance in opening doors for women.

There’s no problem with either actress selected to portray the justices – Laura Wernette as O’Connor and Eileen T’Kaye as Ginsburg – but the script doesn’t give either performer much to work with when the rivalry and differences could have brought fervent and even explosive discussions between the two about cases on which they differed.  The short play could also have allowed more character development about each woman and since both were trend setters, that seems to be the playwright’s failing.

With so much in the press about Ginsburg and the desire to learn more about the less known O’Connor, “Sisters In Law” could have explored the two fascinating justices in much greater depth.  As it is, “Sisters In Law” is a tame and rather bland scenario about the two justices that could have been a more dynamic play.  “Sisters In Law” doesn’t have a lot of punch about two important and interesting women.  It continues through April 28.  For tickets, order online at www.phoenixtheatre.com or call the box office at 602-254-2151.

Grade: C