BWW Review: Halley Feiffer Translates Chekhov into Millennial in MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW
"You're such a slut."
Though this reviewer hasn't read every English translation of Chekhov's THREE SISTERS that's been penned since the drama premiered in 1901, he highly doubts the above exchange between unhappily wed former concert pianist Masha and lovelorn army lieutenant Tuzenbach has appeared in any previous effort.
But it's perfectly legitimate when you consider how well Halley Feiffer's Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow draws parallels between privileged youth of pre-Bolshevik Revolution Russia and the most negative stereotypes of present day American Millennials.
Like Aaron Posner's UNCLE VANYA-inspired LIFE SUCKS, still packing in the disillusioned masses at Theatre Row, the new offering by MCC is more of a freestyle riff on its sullen source material, lifting subtext to the surface in contemporary vernacular and shaving the whole thing down to a quick-paced 95 minutes.
And because it's directed by Trip Cullman, who specializes in mounting weird extensions of reality without losing any emotional oomph, there's no lack of empathy.
As with the original, the action takes place at the stately countryside home of the Prosorovs. The visuals provided by designers Mark Wendland (set) and Paloma Young (costumes) give off a mixture of period, modern, abstract and kitsch.
The title occupants, bored with country living, continually pine for a return to the vibrancy of Moscow, which is represented by a post card portrait of its beloved skyline.
"Happy birthday, Irina!," says oldest sister Olga to the youngest. "Too bad your birthday's also the anniversary of Father's death."
As played by Rebecca Henderson, unmarried schoolteacher Olga tends to make a diva act out of her self-loathing ("I look like shit, but what else is new."), while emotionally detached Irina shows disdain for being continually targeted by male attention. ("Does everyone think I have a golden pussy or something?!")
Middle sister Masha isn't scripted to be played by a cross-dressing man, but that's the case here, as Chris Perfetti takes on a melodramatic attitude somewhat reminiscent of the great Charles Ludlam. In fact, initially it looks like Feiffer and Cullman are dabbling into Ridiculous Theatrical territory, displaying elevated reality as the characters dictate emotions and staging into their dialogue. ("I'm talking to both of you, even though I am facing this window with a wistful expression on my face.")
But while MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW never settles into naturalism, as more characters enter, relationships are more fully explored.
Male sibling Andrey (Greg Hildreth) and his eventual wife Natasha (Sas Goldberg) are quite demonstratively in lust for each other, though the sisters feel their future in-law is a bit below their station. (Masha describes her as "the duuuuuumbest whore.")
Stephen Boyer's Tuzenbach has the same kind of passion for Irina, though everyone assumes he's gay, while Masha, never truly excited by her dorky husband Fyodor (Ryan Spahn), gets hot for the dashing and married and Vershinin (Alfredo Narciso), who finds comfort in the depressingly philosophical side of life.
While the younger characters crackle with Feiffer's wit, two older ones (Boomers?) offer grounding pathos: Ray Anthony Thomas as army doctor Chebutykin, who carries fond memories of the Prosorovs' deceased mother, and Ako as Anfisa, the aging nanny who raised all the now-adult children.