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The Wolfe Twins

A rainy autumn in Italy unearths secrets between siblings.

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Birgit Huppuch as Dana, Jolly Abraham as Raina, and Tom Story as Lewis in Rachel Bonds' The Wolfe Twins, directed by Mike Donahue, at Washington, D.C.'s Studio Theatre.
(© Igor Dmitry)

Let's start with the good news: the acting in The Wolfe Twins at Studio Theatre is excellent, especially on the part of Tom Story, who is dazzling as Lewis, one of the middle-aged Wolfe siblings. Yet playwright Rachel Bonds offers at once too much and too little information to make her characters into people an audience can care about.

Taking place in present-day Rome, The Wolfe Twins finds siblings Lewis (Tom Story) and Dana (Birgit Huppuch) taking a trip to reconnect and grieve after their father's funeral. Dana and Lewis are the worst possible traveling companions. Dana is a pure type A, hyperactive, detail-oriented control freak. She plans every moment, chooses every restaurant and museum. She even makes Lewis get up early to see the Coliseum in the right light. Lewis is Dana's polar opposite. He's relaxed and casual, a humorous free spirit. He has recently married a man he adores. Story makes his Lewis sensitive enough to notice Dana's internal unhappiness.

The third inhabitant at the B & B where Lewis and Dana are lodging is Raina (Jolly Abraham). Lewis immediately finds her fascinating. She is an artist, a print-maker, and therefore out of the ordinary to Dana, who is oddly insecure about her career as a home health-care worker. But Raina isn't quite a female Michelangelo. Rather, she's a wine-dependent woman stranded in Italy, upset that her husband back in America is continually postponing his trip to join her. Abraham gives as much clarity as possible to this ill-defined character, who seems to float through life, putting on occasional art shows and visiting friends. And while she might be beautiful, there is little magnetism written into her role.

The crux of this story lies in Dana's jealousy of the playful bond between Lewis and Raina, which simply isn't substantial enough to be the basis for a play about restoring lost intimacy between siblings. Huppuch does a noble job of making Dana look reasonable, until the moment when she can't look sane any longer. During an after-dinner game one evening, Dana turns from the conventional, super-organized sister into a frightening madwoman, unrecognizable to Lewis. Huppuch sizzles during this unsettling rant, revealing memories that were perhaps better left buried. After that night, Dana decides to go home. Raina also moves on, when her husband cancels his promised visit. Finally, Lewis continues with the Italian trip, the only whole character in the play. Even Alex, the owner of the B & B (nicely played by Silas Gordon Brigham) harbors an air of inescapable sadness.

The script's shortcomings create built-in problems for director Mike Donahue, who nonetheless keeps the play moving briskly. Dane Laffrey's set captures the modern and clean lines of a boutique hotel look with a white and red hotel lobby. To one side of a central door is a business center; to the other side a kitchenette with a continually working espresso maker.

The notes to The Wolfe Twins speak about Bonds' characters "fumbling towards a new, more authentic understanding" of each other. At the end of the play, it's hard to imagine Dana doing that, but Lewis might. He has asked questions of Dana and listened to her. One senses that Lewis now has a good understanding of Dana as he drinks his last espresso and says his final, heartfelt arrivederci to Alex and to Rome.

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