BWW Reviews: Breaking String's THREE Turns an Old Classic into a New One
Adaptations are a tricky business. Staying too close to the source material may make the audience wonder why the material was adapted in the first place, and straying too far may seem disrespectful (everyone involved in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, that one's directed at you). But occasionally, an adaptation comes along that has clear reverence towards the original work but is also unafraid to stand on its own. Such is the case with Breaking String Theater's fantastic production of Three, or The Sound of the Great Existential Nothingness, a new and exciting modernization of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters.
While clearly inspired by Chekhov's celebrated play, the original work by Timothy Braun is a loose enough adaptation that it can reach Checkov lovers and newcomers alike. Braun shortens the time span from several years to 24 hours, shrinks the cast down to five principal characters, and transplants them to a small undisclosed American town. Andre (Jeff Mills) serves as the de-facto patriarch of the family and our narrator. Dad's dead, mom's never mentioned, and Andre and his three sisters are left barely holding their feeble lives together. Their town is so void of life or activity, only two people show up for the birthday of Irina, the youngest sister. One of the guests, the Captain (Chris Gibson), seems to have a history with middle sister, Masha (Cami Alys). Through a booze-fueled fog, secrets are revealed, and we begin to see that the happiness and stability of this family is far more delicate than it originally appeared.
Though the characters and plot points may be Checkov's, the voice is Braun's alone. Braun lightens up the dark and depressing themes ever so slightly by mixing some wit and humor in with the tragedy. There are plenty of moments, particularly in Mills's asides to the audience, that are hysterical, and there are others that are heartbreaking. You don't really know what to expect from moment to moment, but you always know that whatever's coming next is going to be good.
Graham Schmidt's direction seems well-suited to Braun's dark, moody, but somehow humorous text, and characters and relationships are incredibly detailed and developed. However, Schmidt stumbles a bit with the in-the-round staging and clearly favors two of the three sides of the triangular space. But even if you're stuck looking at the performers' backs, the text and acting is so strong you hardly mind.
Jeff Mills is particularly memorable as Andre. His dry, sardonic, often self-deprecating humor gives the piece some buoyancy, and he's just as strong in some of his more dramatic moments. Cami Alys is fantastic as the emo Masha. Clad all in black, she proves to be just as cutting and sharp as the scissors she carries in her boot, yet it's clear from the onset that her tough exterior is a feeble attempt to mask her pain. As her love interest, Chris Gibson is wonderful as he instills The Captain with a slickness that is both intriguing and repulsive. As the other two sisters, Gricelda Silva is effervescent as the cute and innocent Irina, and Dawn Youngs is able to keep the bossy, nosey Olga from becoming unlikeable.
While it may be a far cry from Checkov's Three Sisters, Three is able to overcome the typical adaptation traps and becomes something fresh, original, and exciting.
Running time: Approximately 95 minutes with no intermission.
NOTE: Recommended for mature audiences only
THREE, OR THE SOUND OF THE GREAT EXISTENTIAL NOTHINGNESS, produced by Breaking String, plays The Off-Center at 2211 Hidalgo Street, Austin 78702 now thru Saturday, August 17. Performances are Saturday 8/9, Sunday 8/10, Wednesday 8/14, Thursday 8/15, Friday 8/16, and Saturday 8/17. All performances start at 8pm. Tickets are $15-25. For tickets and more information, please visit www.breakingstring.com