The Three Sisters
Rehearsal Drawing, by Ethan Gould
BOTTOM LINE: A worthwhile production of one of theatre's greatest playwrights, Anton Chekhov, the original creator of the show about nothing (and all this time you thought it was Seinfeld).
The play explores the lives of three young women full of ennui, disillusioned with the promises of adulthood, dreaming of a better life but never really taking action, and constantly complaining that the grass is greener in Moscow than in their provincial Anytown, USSR. Director Jess Chayes sets the tone immediately. Upon entering the small downtown theatre, the audience walks directly through the Prozorov's living room to locate their seats. Meanwhile, the three sisters are already taking action (or shall I say, inaction) with Olga (Kate MacCluggage) meandering throughout the living room with a video camera, Masha (Kate Benson) lounging on the chaise, and Irina (Emily Perkins) poking at the chipped paint of a doorframe.
Chayes' creative direction is, for the most part, a triumph. With limited space, Chayes stages the show in thrust (audience members are on three sides of the playing space), and utilizes everything from the aisle-way, to an offstage area visible via video feed, to a sliding wall upstage to make the most of the small black box theatre.
She uses several television monitors on stage to display live action throughout the play. While I enjoyed the use of video, I'm not sure it was used to its fullest advantage. For example there is a crotch shot of Vershinin (Levi Morger) that looks more like the result of a misplaced aim of the camera than an artistically intended shot (perhaps a Freudian slip), and during most of Act Two the camera simply points at lampshade. I do however, appreciate the moments when it did work. The most successful usage is during a dinner party scene. The family exits to an offstage area while the audience is left alone in the living room, to watch the goings on of the off-stage dinner party from the monitors. Soon it is clear that Andrei's (Ben Beckley's) girlfriend Natasha (Alley Scott), is not very well liked by his sisters. After an embarrassing moment, she flees the dining room into the living room with Andrei close behind. We, the audience, still see the dinner party in full swing on the monitors as we witness this private moment between boyfriend and girlfriend on the stage before us. A very lovely moment. Other times, the camera zooms in on an actor's face, redirecting focus and providing a close-up reaction of the character, revealing more than any words could.
The cast is an enjoyable ensemble to watch. Particularly MacCluggage, (Broadway's The Farnsworth Invention), who is collected with a quiet sense of regret as Olga. Perkins, (The Woodshed Collective's The Confidence Man), is a joy as youngest sister, Irina. She develops her character from a wide-eyed optimist to someone who knows better and maintains a welcomed fresh-faced levity. Chris Hurt is charming as Chebutykin, the aged, fun-loving and accepting doctor. Moti Margolin (The Confidence Man) provides comedic commentary as the awkward Tuzenbach, while my favorite may be Cecil Baldwin as the even more socially awkward Kulygin (and who I may have spotted in a New York Times commercial this weekend). Delivering lines in Latin with boyish boastfulness and enthusiasm, Baldwin plays the cuckolded Kulygin with a clueless grandeur a la Tobias Funke (of TV's "Arrested Development"); it is the definition of humor.
Anton Chekhov is widely regarded as one of theatre's most important playwrights. If you haven't seen one of his plays, or even if you have but you'd simply like to see a good play without all the contrived hubbub and extreme, worst-case-scenario-of-life, melodrama that has found its way to the stage lately, treat yourself to this production of The Three Sisters. It is a solid production that provides a simple, innovative, creative, outside-the-Broadway-box night of theatre.
(The Three Sisters plays at The Red Room, 85 East 4th Street between 2nd Ave and Bowery, through January 30. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 3pm. The show runs 2 hours 45 minutes with one 10 minute intermission. Tickets are $15 and are available by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444 or online at www.horseTRADE.info).