In Francesca Pazniokas’ KEEP, older sisters Kara (Jenna D’Angelo) and Jane (Madison Comerzon) decide once and for all to intervene on behalf of their youngest sister, Naomi (Kim Krane). She’s got a major hoarding problem, and they know that while part of the challenge will be picking through and cleaning out a nightmare of an apartment, the bigger challenge will be getting Naomi to accept their help and cooperate.
Kara and Jane know they could find some distressing things in there, and they do, but there’s more to uncover than the rotting remains of a pet cat. There’s a secret buried among all the piles of accumulated history, and an answer to the family’s most painful question: What happened to Margo?
Margo (Leslie Marseglia) never left Naomi’s side when they were kids, but no one has seen or heard from her in so long that they’ve just about given up hope of ever knowing the truth. As it turns out, Naomi has just been keeping piles of discarded junk to herself.
D’Angelo and Comerzon work nicely together as mismatched siblings, Kara full of anger and resentment as much as love and worry for Naomi, Jane highly ordered and always attempting to keep the peace and diffuse tension. In particular, Comerzon has a good sense of subtle comedic timing, bringing a number of much-appreciated moments of humor to the otherwise dark and tense play.
The reactivity between the two works really well, each sister dealing with the stress of the situation in a way that feels real and natural. Kara gets frustrated and wants to charge through and just get rid of everything without dillydallying about Naomi’s feelings. Jane wants to be supportive and kind, even though she knows there’s a problem. She’s delicate with Naomi, ignoring some of the bigger issues as much as she tries to ignore what she may be stepping on (or in) at any given moment.
Krane, for her part, makes Naomi feel bratty and combative, but also gives her the passion of someone who feels that she must hold the weight of history—her family’s as well as what she sees as the world’s—on her tiny shoulders. She sees her lifestyle as a sacrifice more than an illness that can be treated, and she will fight for every broken piece of furniture or stained rug in the place. She’s frustrating, but in a way that also elicits pity.
Pity because she seems so misguided. Things do not innately contain history—only what history we assign to them. Relationships, likewise, are only as strong and secure as we let them be. As pieces of the greater puzzle about Margo are revealed, the less and less sympathetic Naomi becomes as a character.
Director Stephanie Cunningham has made some surprising choices, especially when it comes to how to present Margo. After an initial shock, a complex character is revealed through something akin to a series of flashbacks, a missing sister’s surprising fate emerging out of the darkness as a sister’s jealousy is brought to light. It may make you wonder what comes next for these siblings, but that must be a story for another time—a story I would be curious to see.
Photos by Russell Rowland
Playing at TBG Theatre
312 W. 36th Street
Through April 30, 2016