Recently, I attended a production of the play My Sister at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles. Written by playwright Janet Schlapkohl, My Sister is a story about identical twin sisters who come to Berlin in the 1930s to realize their dream of becoming a successful actress and writer team. Emily and Elizabeth Hinkler are identical twin sisters and superb actresses in this searing drama. The character Matilde suffers from what appears to be cerebral palsy. Nonetheless, she is a writer with an astute satirical intellect who generates their sophisticated comedic skits and songs. Since Matilde has difficulty walking, she is largely confined to the small apartment they share. She spends her time writing and listening to her shortwave radio to keep abreast of the world outside.
Her sister Magda works a menial job in a hospital during the day; at night Magda goes to a cabaret in hopes of breaking into show business. One night she finds herself on stage because the two other scheduled cabaret acts did not show up. Both sisters are ecstatic, enjoying their joint theatrical success and hoping for bigger and better venues. However, their excitement and exhilaration are cut short by the encroaching Nazi tide that envelops Berlin and eventually the entire country. The cabarets can no longer entertain audiences with satirical reflections on life, love, sex, and politics.
Matilde recognizes the proliferating Nazi horrors and feels compelled to write pieces that satirize the regime. Magda is in denial about the changing political climate and accuses Matilde of exaggerating fears and thoughts. Magda uses the material that Matilde writes but deletes all political references that ridicule the Nazis and Hitler.
The characters’ deep-rooted love, concern, and admiration for one another is profound as well as tragic. Their committed partnership as sisters and artists throughout the play reflects their synergistic creativity that suffers amid the oppressive historical climate. Magda’s devotion to Matilde is peppered with feelings of resentment, sacrifice, and guilt; Matilde’s anger and frustration about her disability is evident. She resents being emotionally and physically dependent upon Magda and is angry that people assume that her physical handicaps hint at intellectual deficiencies as well. In spite of these ambivalent feelings, their love for one another is palpable. Ironically, their life-sustaining twin connection ultimately causes their tragic undoing.