The Neighborhood Theatre shakes up '3 Sisters' like a Polaroid picture
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
It's a beautiful day in the Neighborhood in their pinata like spin on dear ole Chekhov's 3 Sisters. Their take makes this dusty, Russian classic feel crisp and amusing with as much satisfaction as watching a waterfall of cascading candy and toys fall out of a Papier-mâché animal. Whether familiar with the plight of the three sisters and their dream of returning to Moscow or not, you won't be prepared for what comes next in this wind-up toy buzzing, balloon high blowing mirage of despair and drunkenness that diminishes desire at every turn.
Currently running in The Rummage Room of the Ravenswood Fellowship Church through next weekend, 3 Sisters is aptly placed in a tucked away closet where you probably "misplaced" your copy of the play long ago. Kadin Graeme McGreevy brings this deconstructed version of Chekhov to life with bold direction, breaking all rules of convention and often language, to allow for stakes and investment in these traditionally tiresome characters. Special consideration is given to adapter Maiya Corral, who also offers a relatable, and especially heartbreaking portrayal of Masha.
This production also takes its cues from Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 with the incorporation of haunting, modern melodies underscoring the morbidness of Russian mismatched lovers and feuding comrades. Tyler Iiams takes the helm in leading Mr. & Mrs. Prozorovs’ Undead Circus Band in this impressive undertaking, whose presence is as integral to the production as its cast. The most clever and often humorous incorporation is when Andrey "plays" his music in moments of solitude.
Classics can often be scrutinized of their purpose when they've been done many times before. Some grimace over the mere thought of seeing yet another Shakespeare or Ibsen. But The Neighborhood is definitely a remedy in reviving classics. They take preconceptions of the characterization and plot, and awaken new possibilities that haven't been considered before which is risky, startling, and in this case pays off expediently. It doesn't go the whole Ivo van Hove, but does one better in matching radical staging with the intention of presenting the story in a new way, but not at the cost of changing the play purely for glitzy spectacle.
The most immediate discovery is how the three sisters, Olya (Millie Rose), Masha (Maiya Corral), and Irina (Park Williams) are all charming, dynamic women in different ways, but they're also petty, immature, and rude. Their cruelties are not so easily concealed, but highlighted in the way they mistreat or malign their unreciprocated admirers and one another. Like how Irina flounces in her fabulously frivolous Pepto-Bismol gown with pride playing with birthday party balloons and the heartstrings of Tuzenbach (Micheal Angelo Smith). Or how Masha with her shimmering, dark wit and poetic musings twists a knife in the heart of her harmless husband, Kulygin (Danny Turek), while being swept away by the rhythms of Adam Driver swaggered, lovesick major, Vershinin (Dan Poppen).
Led by their glowing presence, the course of the evening feels like one too many vodka stingers, an immense delight to watch with bitter undertones. The most prominent example comes from the sisters' treatment of tenderly, shy brother Andrey (Bradley Lorio), and his beloved, the glorious Natasha (Gloria Imseih Petrelli) with a well-paced, sweeping trajectory. They manage to steal the spotlight away with their love budding in the beginning played as extremely sincere and earned against the group's nerve inducing heckling. Their transformation from underdog couple to two strangers drifting in the night of their own home is anticipated, but still manages to be chilling in witnessing how they play with power back and forth.
The whole ensemble makes a meal out of moments without abandoning their characters. Every gesture feels natural without any hesitation from refreshing changes in the text like implementing a curse word or a drunken dance break. Each character, large or small, defies the attributes assigned to them giving them dimension and a scope to play instead of a stereotype. Tuzenbach is not a lovelorn puppy, but a handsome gentleman who can't fall out of love with a friend. Chebutykin (Colin Morgan) although the eldest and a doctor, is the most childish and unhinged. Kulygin is not a jester everyone tolerates, but a man who tries to win the room over, especially his wife, despite severe resistance. Solyony (Sarah Wisterman) isn't a fuck boi, but someone trying to reconcile with a desire that proves inconvenient to everyone, most importantly themselves. (I can never look at chairs the same.)
While performances kindle fire across this spirited ensemble, the actresses electrify this production to its highest levels of catharsis. Corral delivers a Masha where every beat of her performance warrants unflinching attention. Later in the play she becomes stunted repeating incessantly, "I'm bored", her earth crumbles and your heart shatters. Petrelli's Natasha becomes a surprising favorite whose methods of manipulation and condescending chatter are scrumptious in her seemingly effortless delivery. Her monologue will knock the wind out of your sails as she rises to claim the power she's earned. Olya (Rose) has a spirited, sentimental moment of bringing the sisters' bond back together, and Irina's (Williams) burst through brattiness and selfishness will make you reexamine her character altogether.
I could go on for four acts about this Russian revolutionary production, but this glimpse into the resurrection of Chekhov will have to do. Two hours and twenty minutes never felt so fast and will make you long for this party to become an all night rager. 3 Sisters invents a new classic with stirrings in their microscopic presentation akin to The Hypocrites with a lens more playful, earnest, and accessible to all audiences. If you haven't see 3 Sisters or are skeptical of the innovation of classics, this production is the one to see.