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Siblings at Steppenwolf

by Becky Perlman

Brothers and sisters are our first peers, and often, our enduring friends, or rivals, or both. It isn't a surprise, then, that such complicated bonds, rife with history and conflict, are at the heart of so many great plays. In Love Song, Beane’s relationship with his older sister, Joan, is the anchor that keeps him moored to earth as he falls in love with Molly. Joan is both a critic and a confidante to her little brother. Beane’s metamorphosis would not be as thrilling and remarkable if the audience could not see it partially through Joan’s eyes. As someone who has known him intimately since birth, she is the most trustworthy onstage barometer of Beane’s transformation. He cannot hide from her loving attention. And as the play progresses, Joan’s changing response to Beane’s newfound passion is just as compelling as Beane’s own journey. Her initial feelings of fear change to distrust and then annoyance, but it all gradually gives way to Joan’s own euphoria. Beane is no longer an irritant to his older sister, but rather, an inspiration. John Kolvenbach has cited Tennessee Williams and his sibling-centric plays (such as The Glass Menagerie, The Two-Character Play and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) as one of his creative influences. Furthermore, Kolvenbach grew up in a large family, the sole brother to five sisters with whom he still maintains close ties. Given his creative and familial background, it’s no surprise that Love Song is not the first play he has written about the sibling dynamic. His breakout drama, On an Average Day, features two alienated brothers haunted by their shared childhood. And though Average Day’s Bob and Jack are far more troubled and contentious than Joan and Beane, they share with them the unflinching insight into each other’s personality and past. Over the years Steppenwolf has tackled some of the most provocative sibling stories in modern drama, including Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, Sam Shepard’s True West and Fool for Love, and Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog. The siblings in these plays assume many roles. But whether as protector or competitor, savior or destroyer, each one of these brothers and sisters possesses deep insight into the hearts of their siblings. Consider John Kolvenbach’s Love Song a welcome addition to this collection of plays that explore the complex connections between brothers and sisters.