When the Soviet Exhibit entitled Rovoliutsiia! Demonstrasiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test came to the Art Institute of Chicago (October 2017-January 2018), I found my eyes and body looming along a series of propagandists slogans perched on a wall above an entryway that entered to a children’s theatre room; reading “WE WANT! WE WANT! WE WANT!”
Perhaps it was the repetition of the phrase. Perhaps it was the collective “we” that did me over. Either way, WE WANT whispers loudest when I found myself in contact with mass yearning.
The Neighborhood, a Chicago theater company, staged a revival of the 1900 Russian play Three Sisters in the Ravenwood Fellowship Church. Their audience is stuck between a loveseat and a Ladder Used for Coats: foreshadowing an entangled closeness. The ticketing table is hidden upon low sheets.
This is the pre-show: A cast member dancing to Russian House. A woman plays flute in a corner near the piano. Maiya Corral, our Masha for the evening, speaks up. “Ah, yes. Welcome to the Neighborhood.”
Act One: (Our suffering? That’s going to turn into joy…)
A stage flooded pink, the show starts with a hanging frame. We meet these characters loudly, drunkenly. Someone painting on drum clock. It’s youngest sister Irina’s (played by Park Williams) birthday. Dressed in a frill pink, William’s portrayal of Irina knows the meaning of life. She doesn’t want to cry; she wants to work. It’s a hopeful celebration for the Sisters and their loud, zealous chosen family. They dance to electric house and drink spirits in coffee filters. Each want something. By all means, they’re gonna get them!
This ensemble of actors is passionate and careful. Evocative until the last lamp blinks. Each performance never once feels unpassionate: It’s true these lines are cared for. Tuzanbach (Michael Angelo Smith) is tender and nervous. Kulygin (by Danny Turek), is played up to his transparency. His love for Masha is enough, and he’s happy. Bradley Iorio is Andrey, the brother of the Three Sisters. Iorio creates a brother hung by his defeat (his entry in Act Four as a poor, broken Andre is fervid). Vershinin, (Dan Poppen) speaks most hungry for a happy life. Zealous and most likely to break into song, he woos married Masha through jazz-teque serenades.
Act Two: (Sitting in a sandpit, life is a short trip / The music's for the sad man).
Opens with “clowns doing clown things.” A dance party collapsed by Gloria Imseih Petrelli’s intense Natasha. Imseih Petrelli’s monologue is given center stage, speaking into a light bulb. “I wanted grace to be a muscle all people have,” Imseih Petrelli’s Natasha admits.
These three sisters: Olya (Millie Rose), Masha (Maiya Corral) and Irina (Park Williams) have a desire to get out / feel / even at their own demises. But it’s when they are collectively on stage when the sisters are at their most moving. It is in the way each actress works into each other, feeding off each sister’s longing. Millie Rose is the voice of reason, playing the despondent Olya, who feels painfully yearnful next to the confident Irina. Irina, so distracted on her desire to move to Moscow, can’t shake the idea she might not get what she wants. Maiya Corral (Masha and Playwright) is a fast talker, creating a Masha that wants to escape boredom by running into the instrumentals (in this case, a singing Vershinin). Her breakdown upon Vershinin’s leaving is wrenching. Kulygin (Turek) stays by her side, simply content with her near-ness.
Act Three and Four: (A dance on the hill and nothing more. / All we need).
Begins with a flood light and a small table center stage. Olya hates meanness, it “makes her sick.” These sisters grow increasingly despairing as the folds of their lives don’t come out as expected. They dramatically sulk on the floor. They burst into tears. They drink, but the party’s over. “You don’t see it? You don’t see it?” the drum clock breaks. Andrey plays piano for the last few times. Natasha stands up for her claim to authority, stacking herself up on shelves and books. A throne to the kingdom she took: “The world isn’t pretty, it’s what keeps you alive.”
Lights of red. An Empty stage. Olya is sniffling in the dark.
Chekhov’s original script entailed themes of hope, love and loss. The Neighborhood Theater Company wants you to listen to those themes loud and clear. Desire is just desire. Everything could flat line (why not dance it out)? The Neighborhood’s reiteration is a mirage of feelings as feelings come, erupting as they go. The overarching sound of the Undead Circus Band and yells from the cast in overarching dialogue is a dynamic reflection of human detail. From Andrey’s piano solos to the background hums of the sisters’ defeats, the musical composition assists in the deepest sensation of wanting. It’s moments like these when this interpretation of Three Sisters reaches their stride. Desire reveals itself through the noise.
Three Sisters is written by Anton Chekhov (& Maiya Corral for the Neighborhood Theater) running until June 15th At The Ravenswood Fellowship Church, 4511 N Hermitage Ave. Tickets can be purchased here. It is Directed by Kadin McGreevy. Official Cast: Maiya Corral (Masha), Park Williams (Irina), Millie Rose (Olya), Gloria Imseih Petrelli (Natasha), Micheal Angelo Smith (Tuzenbach), Bradley Lorio (Andrey), Dan Poppen (Vershinin), Sarah Wisterman (Solyony), Colin Morgan (Chebutykin), Danny Turek (Kulygin), Jenn Geiger (Fedotik), Anna Klos (Ferapont), & Lo Miles (Anfisa). Music by the Undead Circus Band. Tickets are $10.