EgoPo – Three Sisters Two

9

Reviewers: Janae and Linor

 

The TakeAways

  • Great ensemble work
  • Lively soundscape
  • Incredibly flawed characters
  • Thoughtful and thought-provoking work

 

In our pockets

Janae: I’ve been directed by Brenna before, I’m friends with most of the ensemble, seasonal depression was looming, and I was actively grieving the loss of a loved one.

Linor: I have nothing in my pockets other than the cold and a dear friend onstage.

 

The design

Janae: I felt like Thom Weaver’s lights and scenic design evoked a sense of Heaven and hell and a rapidly deteriorating doll house in between. To the left Heaven being a sleek red dream of a salon in Moscow. For me it felt like the past, a ghost space that could never be attained. The dollhouse in between was slowly being stripped and prepared unconsciously for military occupation. To the right Hell was a a slice of modern military engagement. Filled with vomit and bringing torture/future to the piece.

Linor: Okay, to be honest though, the scenic design felt the most difficult for me. I loved that the primary playing space for the actors was flat and wide, which made all of the action feel like it was trying to burst out of a cartoon background. And yet the most frequently and reliably used part of the space felt unfinished to me. I was frustrated that the more dynamically lit and designed portions of the space were sort of resting rooms for the actors, and that I couldn’t look over to them and see part of the play there. But I agree, the lighting in those rooms was spectacular.

Janae: Interesting. To me it felt as if it former glory had been stripped away over time to pay for necessities. I thought Chris Sannino’s sound was affecting, and certainly helped tell that story. There were real moments when the sound effects made me jump, which helped place me in the action. The soundscape was seamless, to the point that the sound bleeds of Philly actually felt in world. I loved the slick use of reverb denoting shifts in storytelling.

Linor: I agree about the sound bleeds of Philadelphia. There were genuine moments when I didn’t know if what I was hearing was part of the play or on Spring Garden, and I believe that helped make the play feel more immediate. And yes, the reverb was very arresting.

Janae: Natalia de la Torre’s costumes created clean silhouettes, quick shifts, and provided a reminder of how an accessory can define class distinction when underneath it’s all the same basic patterns of humanity that connect us. I frankly would’ve been more interested in a neutral androgyne uniform for all to really fuss with gender but that’s just me personally wanting to smash the binary.

Linor: Mmm. I hear that. I was interested in Natalia’s costumes, but honestly I was thrilled to see actors with really obvious tattoos playing in these characters, and it not feeling like a source of shame or concern. It’s nice to see a costume designer working without feeling the need to cover those up.

Janae: There were a few props (Em Arrick) that grabbed my eye and gave me visceral pleasure. The lotto game and Igor’s oversized suitcase in particular.

Linor: Yes! But the dollhouse in the center of the space to me felt like a HUGE red herring! I saw light-bulbs inside the dollhouse and was positive that they were going to turn on at some point during the play. When they didn’t, I was bummed.

 

The performances

Janae: Wow talk about an ensemble. Love me some good breath work and caring for one another. I was particularly taken with the sisters: Jahzeer Terrell as Olga was attentive, empathetic, and steadfast. Lee Minora’s Irena was earnest and overflowing with whimsy. Colleen Corcoran as Vershinin was a conflicted, complex, hot mess (I mean that in the best way). Such wonderfully flawed creatures. Ugh…aren’t we all. Ross Beschler had some exquisite clown moments.

Linor: I honestly have never enjoyed a performance from Andrew Carroll more. I was delighted by Maria Konstantinidis and her portrayal of Natasha. I was surprised to find Natasha the most sympathetic character of all of them – she’s just trying to run the house, and her husband freaking sucks! I think the most radical thing about this play to me was that the “gender-bending” didn’t serve any plot device, and simply asked the actors to play the truth of their character with no reservations and no twist or subversiveness. The actors did an excellent job of getting me to forget binary divisions.

Janae: Interesting – I did not sympathize with Natasha in that way, though Amanda Schoonover played an excellently weak, miserable, palpably pathetic Andrey.

 

The direction

Janae: I really dug the composition of the vocal soundscape as a transport vehicle through time, matters of the heart, and mind of the characters. The balance of gesture and tableaus had me quite engaged. I found myself leaning forward more than once.

Linor: I think where Brenna Geffers’ direction really shone here was in her commitment to the emotional truth of the story. I’ve never read Three Sisters Two, and I’ve also never read or seen Three Sisters. But someone could have packaged this as Chekhov’s Three Sisters and I would have believed it, because Brenna worked so successfully with the text to tell a story that felt really grand and Chekhovian and Russian.

 

Why this play now?

Linor: Like I was saying before, to me this felt like such a quintessentially Russian play, full of these dramatic, inevitably flawed and failing characters. It’s really interesting to me to understand the context in which the piece was written, and the choice to bring the play back now. I want to commend Three Sisters Two’s dramaturg for providing some much-needed and welcomed background information that really helped me frame the play. It is an interesting exercise to imagine this play as serving some sort of vehicle for oppressors losing their privilege to – what, reflect? Bemoan? Wail with catharsis? If Reza de Wet wrote this in a moment when white people in South Africa were adjusting to a newly established set of priorities, it feels a little bit like a space for white people to tear at the hair about not being on top anymore which I guess I’m not as interested in. I think a little bit about the intended or unintended consequences of programming this in EgoPo’s South African season – most of the target theater-seeking audience in the house the night I went to see it were too stuck on the role of gender in the casting to be able to think critically about what it might mean to program a story about an aristocratic family no longer wielding the privilege that it’s used to. I like the play a lot, though I do wonder whether the play itself succeeds as a thought exercise, and I do question whether Brenna Geffers’ direction played to that larger dramaturgy. I don’t know, thoughts?

Janae: I feel that this production is being specific to the interwoven levels of power dynamics that we here in Philadelphia are grappling with: race, gender, class. Could each of those themes be dug into deeper? Perhaps focusing on just one theme would have been more effective in theory, though I still feel like I got it. To me it seems we’re all casualties of a war machine and the sooner that we acknowledge the unnecessary segregations that place us “above” one another and agree that were on the same level (this planet) the sooner we can confront said war machine instead of “soldiering on with the old ball and chain.” All that said I agree that there was a contingency of folks in the audience who were fixated on gender unnecessarily and that’s just telling of how far we have to go.

Linor: Totally.

 

Accountability

Linor: Like I said before, casting masculine-presenting bodies in female roles and femme-presenting bodies in male roles for me did nothing to accentuate the story, and I loved that. During intermission, I overheard one of the older women next to me talking to her friend and grumbling about how the “gender-bending doesn’t really do much for the play,” and to be honest, I think she’s right. But all of the actors played their parts beautifully, and isn’t that kind of the point of gender being the dumbest, most arbitrary construct? It felt a little liberating to be watching, for example, Colleen Corcoran play Vershinin as the character was written, and do it really well. My one accountability question is on the subject of race. I just can’t forget that this play was written by a white South African and in a time in South Africa just after apartheid has ended. Race in this play was as fluid and unsubstantiated as gender. We weren’t really supposed to notice which actors were white and which were not, just as we weren’t supposed to notice which were women and which were not. But I do question whether that choice continues the conversation the play started? Although, on the other hand, I wouldn’t necessarily want a South African play written by an Afrikaans playwright to be produced in Philadelphia without people of color in the room – I don’t know. What do you think, Janae?

Janae: I think the casting was more color conscious than color blind, though I wouldn’t be opposed to a bit more color onstage. That said it wasn’t anemic. The piece feels to me like an offering to acknowledging preconceived notions within oneself without it overtly pointing a finger at bad behavior. A question I would pose though is that does anything have a hard end date? Did apartheid really end? Did the civil war in America ever really end?

Linor: Ugh, so true. You’re right.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s