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Review: SEX, GUNS, AND VODKA Intoxicates with Intimacy and Inner Turmoil

The Classics Theatre Project reimagines an untitled Chekhov classic and gives it the perfect name–Sex, Guns, and Vodka. Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park. May 20-June 11.

Review: SEX, GUNS, AND VODKA Intoxicates with Intimacy and Inner Turmoil

Everyone loves a good party, right? Balloons, a full liquor cabinet, friends, romance, and music-the essentials of the perfect party. But what happens when a gathering becomes grim, infiltrated by lies, cheating, jealousy, and sorrow? Well, if you ask anyone in the cast of The Classics Theatre Project's Sex, Guns, and Vodka, I think they would have the same answer-more vodka!

The energy in The Margo Jones Theatre lobby was buzzing. Theatre-goers were chatting with one another, shopping at the Ginseng + Honey pop-up shop, making donations, and sipping on wine and mixed vodka shots. The whole evening was a party, starting with the pre-show festivities in the lobby, then watching the dramatic yet humorous events unfold during the performance, and closing the evening with an opening night champagne toast. My ticket wasn't just for entry to see Sex, Guns, and Vodka; it was an invitation to the most dramatic party in town.

Moving from the pre-performance party to the theatre, I was immediately excited to see what trouble the characters were going to create. The stage was organized as an entertainment space in a 1970s home. A cabinet full of glassware and booze was wide open, and balloons were spread all across the floor. The audience was seated along three of the four sides of the stage, giving us an up close and personal view of the drunken spiral of events throughout the evening. The performance space lent itself to seamless changes in setting due to the two points of entry-a doorway backstage and the lobby doors. Actors naturally entered and exited throughout the performance, sometimes carrying with them a new piece of set or a prop that shifted the setting. I was impressed by the use of set and props to convey the different settings, most notably the shift from homely entertainment space to forest, but these shifts wouldn't have been successful without the skilled use of light and sound.

Of course a show can't happen without lighting and sound design, but there were multiple moments in Sex, Guns, and Vodka when the effective use of these elements was the sole reason for the scene's success. First was the 1970s music playing quietly from a radio. The music contributed to the authenticity of the party, acting as the soundtrack to the start of a wild evening. Later when the setting changed to a forest, the lights dimmed, emphasizing the hanging string lights, and sounds of chirping crickets filled the theatre. This moment instantly transported us from inside a house to the outdoors. There were three recorded gunshot sounds in the performance, and Director Joey Folsom made sure to share that information with the audience prior to the start of the show. Not only was their execution of sound exceptional, but they made sure to create a safe environment for the audience to enjoy the show with peace of mind. In today's world, I think that is invaluable. The simultaneous use of intentional lighting and sound design helped the audience immerse themselves in the setting and complemented the actors' portrayals of their characters.

Each character had a personality that was unique and twisted in some way. Because of how distinguishable each character was, the cast's costumes were minimal yet effective. The clothing was representative of the 1970s time frame, especially with the flared pants and chunky boots containing dice in the heels. All characters were wearing garments that reflected their personalities in a subtle way. I appreciate intentional wardrobe choices that don't distract from the performers' talents, and in this performance, there was a lot of talent to be seen.

Playing the Don Juan of the play, Mikhail Platonov, was Robert San Juan, who did a remarkable job getting the audience to hate him. Watching his interactions with the four women fawning over him was a disaster I couldn't look away from. The four women had vastly different personalities, but they all wanted the same thing-Platonov. Madyson Greenwood as Anna was brilliantly bad, frequently attempting to capture Platonov's attention through seduction. Janae Hatchett played the hilariously clingy Maria almost too well. Hatchett's wide-eyed expressions and nervous, fidgety behavior showed her character's insecurities and need for Platonov's attention and approval. The beautiful Devon Rose played Sofia, a somewhat shallow hopeless romantic who truly thought she could run away to a new life with a womanizer like Platonov. Rhonda Rose played sweet Sasha, the dark-haired wife of Platonov. Rose was successful in playing the naive, trusting woman who was conned into marrying the trickster. All four of these women impressively played their roles, embodying the nuances of each personality while showing clear commitment to seeking Platonov's affection. Although I am not one to support women competing for attention, this was one time I enjoyed being a witness to such a situation.

As the madness surrounding Mikhail Platonov unfolded, there were many other characters creating hilarious and horrible layers to the situation. Something I found interestingly convincing was the actors' abilities to appear intoxicated. At some moments I was wondering if the multiple liquor bottles in the cabinet actually were full of Russian vodka. The actors really seemed that tipsy! Despite the authentic drunken mannerisms, the audience was able to study the interactions between the party-goers, Platonov, and the four ladies to gain a deeper understanding of their relationships and motives. Andrew Manning as Nikolay and Brian Witkowicz as Burgov were great as two of the tipsy friends at the party. Jackie L. Kemp played Porfiry, the eldest of the friend group. A couple of brief but important appearances by David Britto as the messenger, Marko, helped move the action of the story forward. Although these supporting characters weren't directly part of the love and lust conflict, their presence contributed to the audience's understanding of the various relationships between characters.

There were three characters who were frequently making the audience chuckle-Sergey, Osip, and Kirill. Jon Garrard's Sergey was hilarious, flamboyant, and in your face in the best way. Although his marriage was ending in shambles, he was still making the audience laugh. Braden Socia's portrayal of Osip was frightening and funny. He very clearly communicated his violent tendencies while also seeming to have a soft heart, but his most notable trait was his high-pitched, Joker-esque laugh. Whenever he made that sound, almost like a shriek, I felt myself cringe, but that didn't stop the chuckle from escaping my mouth. Finally, Blake Hametner as Kirill was perfect. Not only did this character have the grooviest and noisiest costume, but the way he spoke to the other party-goers was comical. When we first met this character, he yelled, "why are you doing this to me?!" which, due to his French accent and general hilarity, really sounded more like "WHY AH YUH DOIN THES TO MEH?!" Hametner's presence on stage was necessary for moments of comedic relief, and whenever he showed up, I could feel the audience shift in their seats, excited and waiting for Kirill to say or do something silly.

When hearing a story full of drunkenness, disastrous desire, depression, and devastation, it might feel like you shouldn't be laughing; however, the convincing acting of the cast captured frequent laughs from the audience. I can't say I went into the evening thinking I would be loudly laughing at the dark topics Sex, Guns, and Vodka addresses, but I certainly did, and the entire audience was laughing along with me. This strangely grim and giggly tale is a perfect representation of the nuance of our existence, highlighting the horrid actions caused by selfish motivations while also admitting that the faults of humanity, although sometimes morbid, are also somewhat of a laughing matter.

Sex, Guns, and Vodka, an adaptation of Anton Chekhov's untitled first play, is a performance you don't want to miss. The collaboration of Production Manager Luisa Torres's hard work and Joey Folsom's ability to adapt and direct this play shows the credibility of The Classics Theatre Project. True art is to address challenging topics and weave in a thick thread of humor; Folsom's vision made this art possible. Don't miss out on the realization of this vision of a Checkhov classic. Head to The Margo Jones Theatre for a drink and a performance of Sex, Guns, and Vodka. Everyone loves a party, so why not go party with The Classics Theatre Project? As they said in the performance: "If you drink, you die. If you don't drink, you die. So we might as well die drinking!"

Details:

The Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park May 20-June 11. Purchase tickets through The Classics Theatre Project website. Read the digital program to learn more about the amazing talent behind the scenes.

Photo Credit: Kate Voskova


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