PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 June, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 June, 1999, 12:00am

Belles, McAulay Studio, Arts Centre, May 30, also June 2-5 This show is a touching, emotionally wrought and ultimately profound tale of six sisters in search of happiness but inextricably bound by an unhappy past.

Yet despite its syrupy theme, the American Community Theatre production of Belles was never in danger of straying into mawkish territory. Mark Dunn's sharp script, accomplished production that embraced tricky lighting techniques, and performances stretching characterisations to their limit ensured a powerful play.

The way in which the sisters' dialogue was conducted by telephone, resulting in slick conversations in short, skilful scenes, was particularly clever. If ever there was a medium for a play destined to appeal to Hong Kong audiences, this was it.

The play opened with well-meaning Peggy (Diana Hellerman) contacting her sisters when their mother, with whom she lives, falls ill after eating contaminated tuna.

What followed was a fascinating and intricate peeling away of layers as characters were allowed to vent feelings, frustrations and fears.

Kathy Porteous gave a heartfelt performance as Roseanne, whose marriage was disintegrating. One poignant scene saw her throwing condiments on to the floor, each one representing a sibling in whom she was unable to confide and whom she then damned in one acerbic sentence.

Caryn McCann was enchanting as the kooky Audrey too fond of a ventriloquist's dummy, while Suzy Deline's Paige was a young woman floundering amid dating dilemmas.

But for many, Lana Friesen was the scene-stealer, as the hippy-dippy Dust, eternally optimistic in the face of being unable to keep a man.

Sitting crosslegged and willing a beau to ring with 'I am your sunshine, I am your moongirl', she was clearly someone unable to cope with crossed lines.

It was left to the successful but lonely Aneece, played by Kate Smith, to spit out the dark family secret about their father between swigs of vodka.

It would be difficult to fault such a polished result. Just one suggestion - a little more voice projection by cast members at the rear of the stage. This was, after all, a production to shout about.