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‘Sister Cities’ tells story of daughters dealing with mother’s death, family secrets

Pamela Shafer, who plays Mary, talks with her stage daughter Austin, played by Jessica Blair, as the
Pamela Shafer, who plays Mary, talks with Jessica Blair, who plays her daugher Austin, as they rehearse a scene for “Sister Cities” at Sidewalk Studio Theatre in Burbank on Monday. The opening show, which is sold out, is this Friday.
(Tim Berger / Burbank Leader)

Dealing with a loved one’s death is never easy, and it is a bigger challenge if the passing comes by way of an assisted suicide.

The play “Sister Cities,” written by Colette Freedman and being performed at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre in Burbank, dives into that topic as four sisters, who each have different fathers and are named after different U.S. cities, try to understand their mother’s death.

Tickets for the show’s opening night on Friday are sold out, but tickets for their remaining eight performances at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre are still available. The production runs through the end of March.

Actress Jessica Blair, who plays the character Austin, explained that the sisters learn about what their mother, Mary Baxter, was going through before her death.


Mary traveled the world as a dancer and lived a happy life. However, toward the end of her life, the mother of four was dealing with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which only she and Austin knew about, Blair said.

“Lou Gehrig’s is this horrible, debilitating disease, and for Mary, who was a professional dancer, to lose her mobility was just hell on Earth,” Blair said. “So she just gets to this point where she doesn’t want to deal with it anymore.”

Sisters Austin, Dallas, and Baltimore, played by Jessica Blair, Leslie Connelly, and Sheena Leigh, w
Sisters Austin, Dallas and Baltimore, played by Jessica Blair, Leslie Connelly and Sheena Leigh, watch TV during rehearsal of a scene for the play "Sister Cities" at Sidewalk Studio Theatre in Burbank.
(Tim Berger / Burbank Leader )

Blair said she understands the complexities and nuances of talking about assisted suicides and euthanasia, saying that people will talk about whether the action is morally reprehensible.


“There’s a line in the play that comes up a couple of times, which is ‘Don’t judge someone’s actions until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes,’” she said. “None of us can know what it’s like to be trapped inside their own body.”

Though the topic is dark and emotional, Blair said Freedman’s use of drama and some comedy help the audience understand the moral of the play.

“This play is about coming together and healing relationships,” Blair said. “I hope it helps people get a better understanding of this disease, and possibly about how people come to the decision of assisted suicide.”

For tickets to “Sister Cities,” visit

Twitter: @acocarpio