Elizabeth is very aware of the conversation surrounding non-disabled actors playing characters with disabilities. She cites Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar-winning performance of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and admits that yes, a disabled actor could be cast in the role, but to her — and to the playwright — Matilde’s disability is not the most important element of her character. The bond between the identical twin sisters, and the expression of their relationship, is the focus.
“It just so happens that my character has a disability. It’s just another layer of Tilde.”
As tensions grow in the city outside the sisters’ apartment, the fact that the twins are identical becomes increasingly significant. The audience receives bits and pieces of information about the aims of Hitler’s new regime, and slowly begins to realize that Matilde’s condition has become life threatening; while the twins are genetically the same, Matilde’s cerebral palsy deems her unfit in the eyes of the Nazis.
On the other side of the mirror, Emily’s portrayal of Magda involves a much more internalized struggle. Because Magda is the sister who works and comes into daily contact with the outside world, she is directly confronted with the political atmosphere — and, with government propaganda. Unlike Matilde, who is vocally skeptical (and subversively critical) of the new regime, Magda fights to believe the best about the changes happening around her. To a contemporary audience, Magda’s sentiments are troublesome.
“You see her identifying with the Nazi thought process,” says Emily. “But for her, it’s a way of trying to survive, and to live her dreams.”
As Matilde writes material for Magda’s cabaret performances, Magda must make a decision to cut jokes that imply dissidence or nonconformity; she must sacrifice the humor — and a piece of Matilde’s dream — to ensure their safety.
A recurring line in the play, “Pay attention,” echoes the plea from both of the girls to one another. Matilde wants Magda to see what’s happening around them in Berlin; Magda needs Matilde to realize that she is scrambling to keep them both alive. The script urges the audience, meanwhile, to see past these characters’ “imperfections,” and to take a hard look at the lengths they each must go to in order to simply live.
After the premiere, My Sister moved to the Riverside Theatre Company in Iowa City, Iowa, and then traveled to the Quad Cities Theatre Workshop in January of 2014. A few months ago, Emily and Elizabeth moved to Los Angeles from their hometown of Chicago. The very first day in town, they stumbled into information about the Hollywood Fringe Festival. They didn’t necessarily have furniture yet, or a place to stay, but they had the My Sister script. So they made the decision to submit to the Fringe and remount the show (which they currently still have the rights to), this time under the direction of Paul David Story, who is also Schlapkohl’s son.
The sisters have found joy in each iteration of the production.
“It’s so easy to work with Emily,” Elizabeth says. “It’s just different working with her.” She pauses. “Except sometimes you squeeze my wrist too hard on stage.”
“I know, I know!” shouts Emily. What else is difficult about working together?
“We’re definitely our own worst…” starts Elizabeth.
“…Critics,” finishes Emily.
“If we have a rehearsal without our director, we’ll just stop each other and say, ‘You’re not really talking to me right now. Talk to me.’”
Why is this an important show to stage in LA right now? They both perk up when asked; their eyes get a bit wider.
“We always say: Human rights, disability awareness, freedom of expression,” says Elizabeth.
“It’s about seeing people for who they are,” says Emily, looking at her sister.
The characters of Madga and Matilde live in a world where they aren’t necessarily given the opportunity to be seen, but the Hinkler sisters say they are determined to reveal them to each and every audience member, each and every night.
NOW PLAYING: MY SISTER, by Janet Schlapkohl, as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. June 20, 21, and 27 at the Underground Theatre.
My Sister is a two woman show performed by identical twins that explores perceptions of disability played against the backdrop of history, specifically 1934 Berlin.