Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow
By Ron Cohen
sisters like to say “shit” and “fuck” a lot. Yes, they’re the same Prozorov
women who inhabit Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters. But this time around
they’re cutting up in Halley Feiffer’s adaptation of Chekhov’s masterpiece.
It’s entitled Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow.
not into counting, that’s six Moscows, apparently two for each of the sisters.
It reflects their longing to return to the Russian capital they left eleven
years earlier when their father, an Army officer, was transferred to the
backwater town where they now live.
Matthew Jeffers Rebecca
Henderson Tavi Gevinson and Chris Perfetti
photos by Joan Marcus
parents now dead, the sisters’ existence seems bleaker than ever, despite the
comings and goings through their doors of the town’s various soldiers.
Feiffer’s aims to give the story a more relevant kick, a greater urgency, with
the characters expressing themselves more like 21st Century folk, or
at least exaggerated versions of the way they – or we -- talk. Expletives
abound, especially in the first act, setting a tone, along with emotional
hyperbole, even as Feiffer keeps the play’s time frame circa 1900.
language together with the stylized direction of Trip Cullman together with the
eclectic costumes of Paloma Young, the fanciful set by Mark Wendland and
lighting by Ben Stanton, plus the sometimes-frantic sound design of Darron L.
West, often give the production the air of an absurdist comedy. There’s also
some non-traditional and gender-fluid casting, with one of the sisters played
by a male actor.
The fact that
the visceral pull of Chekhov’s narrative still registers is a tribute to his
genius in putting life on stage in a universal context and Feiffer’s respect
for her source material.
A lot of
credit is also due an excellent company of actors, responsive to Cullman’s directorial
embellishments while also instilling their roles with a relatable humanity.
storytelling is slimmed down, but still follows Chekhov’s plot line pretty much
incident by incident. Chekhov’s elegiac ending about finding happiness,
however, is notably shortened and capped with a jokey bit about finally going –
or not going – to Moscow.
What’s also missing
perhaps is the prescient tone throughout Chekhov’s works that his people may
well be living in a civilization hurtling toward a catastrophic close. In any
event, the drama wraps up in about 90 brisk minutes.
exclusion of a few extraneous soldiers, all the Chekhov characters are there.
Olga (Rebecca Henderson) is the oldest sister, heading into her old-maid years
with a teaching job that gives her headaches.
sister, Masha (played in admirably straightforward fashion – in a gown while still
obviously a guy -- by Chris Perfetti), is caught up in a dismal marriage with a
determinedly cheerful school teacher of Latin, Kulygin (Ryan Spahn). She finds
the love of her life with a new arrival in town, the Lieutenant-Colonel Vershinin
(Alfredo Narciso), but as he frequently says, when he’s not busy
philosophizing, he has a wife and two daughters.
Gevinson) is the youngest sister, still hopeful of finding love and fulfilling
work at the play’s start, but her relationship with the Idealistic Tuzenbach
(Steven Boyer) ends tragically.
to dealing with themselves, the sisters have an emotional brother Andrey (Greg
Hildreth), an artist manqué suffering through a city hall job and a marriage to
the increasingly domineering Natasha (Sas Goldberg), who eventually takes over
the Prozorov household.
characters loom large, the paternalistic military doctor Chebutykin (Ray
Anthony Thomas), who lives under the Prozorov roof, and Captain Solyony
(Matthew Jeffers), who harbors a malevolent streak and a thing for Irina.
the cast are Anfisa (Ako), the sisters’ former nanny now a maid, and Ferapont
(Gene Jones), the city council’s ancient go-fer and doorkeeper.
question may be whether Chekhov needs such loose adaptations. There are
certainly plenty of translations of his works, some of them well shaped with
contemporary syntax, perhaps most notably the work of Paul Schmidt.
Chekhov continues to attract and inspire oncoming generations of playwrights,
wanting to take a turn at bringing his people, his understanding of them, into
their own milieu. And if it increases audiences’ appreciation, then so be it.
And on its
own terms, Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow, despite its repetitious
moniker, does have its share of theatrical verve.
the Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater
511 West 52nd