REVIEW: “Moscow Moscow  Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow” at Williamstown

by Macey Levin

Anton Chekhov’s The Three Sisters is recognized as one of the modern theatre’s greatest plays.  First produced in 1901, this story of loneliness, disillusionment and its challenging roles continue to attract actors and directors all through the western world.  A revised version, Moscow Moscow  Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow by Halley Feiffer is currently on the Nikos Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Olga, Masha and Irina, along with their brother Andrey, live in a small town miles away from their original home in Moscow.  The family moved eleven years ago when Andrey’s military battalion was transferred..  Despising the pedestrian lives they now lead, the sisters long to return to the familiarity and color of the city.  Olga, the eldest and stricken with migraine headaches, is dissatisfied with her life as a school teacher.  Masha, seven years married to dull and prosaic Kulygin, has an affair with Vershinin, a lieutenant-commander in the military stationed in the town.  Irina, at 20 years of age, is still child-like not having fully experienced the sophistication of the faraway city.  Andrey, the presumed intellectual of the family, is smitten with Natasha, a young woman of very dubious reputation and who is hated by the sisters.

The tone of the original play is dark and grim.  Feiffer said in an interview “… I don’t think I’ve seen any production that I felt successfully captured the absurdist humor of these characters and the profound depths of their self-made tragedies.”  Moscow… satisfies both ends of her statement.

The first, but overlong, act is raucous and captures the humor in a broad almost slapstick way while the language is filled with profanities and sexual references.  The characters, especially the sisters, seem more like caricatures as they strike poses, screech their lines loud and long so that they are sometimes not understandable, contort their faces and speak rapidly.  Director Trip Cullman should have controlled some of this, though a number of laughs rippled through the audience.

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The second act is closer to the tone of Chekhov’s original work as it evolves and depicts the tragedy of the family.  Natasha and Andrey have married and have had two children.  Because of his gambling addiction and drinking he has ceded authority of the household to Natasha who lords it over the sisters.  The family are filled with self-loathing not realizing they are responsible for their own misery.  These are not likable people, yet they are pitiable.

Rebecca Henderson’s Olga is the most cynical of the family as she flings barbs at them; problem is she is often difficult to understand because she speaks rather quickly, especially with her throw-away lines.  Masha’s (Cristin Milioti) disdain for her husband and her passion for the married Vershinin (Sheaun McKinney) occasionally elicits sympathy from the audience despite her some times vitriolic attacks on her husband.  Loved by Tuzenbach, played by Micah Stock, and Solyony, Glenn Davis, the young Irina (Tavi Gevinson) is confused knowing that she doesn’t care for either of them but does not want to live her life in solitude.

The first act set, beautifully designed by Mark Wedland, is a large living room with a partially seen dining room upstage.  The furnishings are somewhat spare with several somewhat inappropriate props sprinkled through the room… i.e. a tricycle which Tuzenbach rides.  The sets are more somber in the next act and the placement of some of the furniture puzzling.  Ben Stanton’s lighting complements the differing tones of the two acts.  Paloma Young’s costumes befit the stations of the characters; however, though the play takes place at the turn of the twentieth century, much of the wardrobe is contemporary.

Obviously, this is not Konstantine Stanislavski’s Three Sisters as seen in 1901; rather, it is an amalgam created in the very fertile sometimes undisciplined imagination of Ms. Pfeiffer. The performances, in spite of the script problems and occasional shortcoming, are magnetic. In total, Moscow… is an engaging and provocative theatre experience.”

Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow By Halley Feiffer; Directed by Trip Cullman

Cast:  Rebecca Henderson (Olga) Tavi Gevinson (Irina) Cristin Milioti (Masha) Micah Stock (Tuzenbach) Glenn Davis (Solyony) Harvy Blanks (Chebutykin) Ako (Anfisa) Gene Jones (Ferapont) Sheaun McKinney (Vershinin) Thomas Sadoski (Andrey) Ryan Spahn (Kulygin) Jeanine Serralles (Natasha) Theo Maltz (Orderly) Madeline Taylor (Maid/Nurse); Scene design: Mark Wedland; Costume design: Paloma Young; Lighting design: Ben Stanton; Sound design: Darron L. West; Stage Manager:  Lori Ann Zepp; Running Time: 2 hours fifteen minutes, one intermission

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Nikos Stage, Williamstown, MA <BR>

From 7/26/17; closing 8/6//17

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