“Why do you get to write the plays? Why do you get to decide what’s good?”
Good questions. The “you” here is, to put it in italics, the male.
In Three Sisters, by RashDash, After Chekhov, running through March 2 at Curio Theatre Company, based on a show by the great U.K. troupe RashDash, at least part of the time we’re witnessing a blow-up of the male literary canon.
Unleashed is an entertaining three-woman gang-tackle of this maddening masterpiece, in which nothing happens, nothing’s going to, and folks don’t converse as much as trade discontinuous monologues. At Curio, some lines are hilariously out of the blue, as when Irina (ditzy, dreaming, Catherine O’Hara-channeling Tessa Kuhn) suddenly screams at Olga and Masha for “not worrying enough” about global warming. There’s cabaret, dancing, pretend-punk, pretend-rock, constant register- and code-switching between Chekhov’s lines and 2019 talk, and constant costume changes — especially one, which we must grin and bear.
Curio artistic director Paul Kuhn’s brilliant drop set gives us a toybox theater, with a pretend 18th-century proscenium stamped with putti, Orphic lyres, and busts. Two-dimensional cutout trees suggest the tree line of the Chekhovian moneyed classes. The sisters soon tear it all down and do their stuff on a more or less bare stage.
This is Three Sisters with the men edited out. Director Meg Trelease releases each actor to do what she does best. Masha (commanding Rachel Gluck) is a Goth buzzkill mourning a departed love; she has some of the best tunes, singing the exquisite line, “I think my friends see me with a man who can hold the room.” Olga (athletic, busy Colleen Hughes, pirouetting, riding a swing) brandishes her full to-do list against her inner emptiness; she agonizes that “there’s nothing I can do about gerrymandering.” Irina longs for creative work that will help people. Her problem is that “I have nothing to say.” Kuhn as Irina has the show’s best moment when she takes to the piano to sing, “It’s your space now — all you got to do is fill it.” And she’s got nothing. Each sister parades down an underlit catwalk with a bust of Chekhov. Masha gives it an almost clinical French kiss.
“We fought the patriarchy,” the sisters sing, “and it’s not clear who won.” It sure isn’t. Trelease and company are too smart not to undermine their own work. What would Three Sisters be if a woman wrote it? The answer: It’d be three women complaining about their lives. Maybe RashDash, when they first mulled Three Sisters, were kind of aware that Chekhov is an odd target for a feminist takedown. He’s pretty great at creating believable, distinct female characters and giving them airtime. As much as the men talk in Three Sisters, it’s the women who call to us.
And we like Kuhn, Gluck, and Hughes as they leave us, singing, “What do we do? Something else now … ”
The hashtag #ninesisters is circulating on Twitter. Three Sisters-adjacent shows are now running. There’s this one; Hedgerow’s canonical Three Sisters, very well done, indeed; and EgoPo’s Three Sisters Two by Reza de Wet, also much praised. See all three, and you’re entitled to half off on the next production at all three theaters.