Remember the Prozerovs? Twenty years ago, they were that strange family who lived in that big old house with an ancient servant. You remember — there was a brother who gambled and played the violin and who married that awful overdressed woman. And there were three sisters, all with sad and messy love lives. They were always talking about going to Moscow. I knew you’d remember!
Well, I bumped into the South African playwright Reza de Wet the other day at the Latvian Society, who was full of gossip about the Prozerovs, and here’s what she told me:
Three Sisters Two, de Wet’s farce/melodrama/tragicomedy is a very entertaining evening in the theater, but it asks quite a bit of its audience. You need to have some familiarity with Chekhov’s Three Sisters (knowing some of the other Chekhov plays wouldn’t hurt but isn’t crucial). And you need to have some knowledge of South African politics (the program notes help with this). And, too, you need to have a welcoming tolerance for gender-bending, as many of the female characters are played by bearded men, and some of the male characters are played by women. Director Brenna Geffers has found an exciting, highly theatrical style and an extraordinary cast to pull it all off.
Unsurprisingly, after the Russian Revolution, this aristocratic, impoverished family is pretty much where Chekhov left them, still living ridiculous, useless lives. Olga (Jahzeer Terrell) is still a bitter, bossy snob, and Irina (Lee Minora) is still the tremulous, timid sister. (Remember how Chebutykin gave her too many expensive presents for her birthday at the start of Chekhov’s original Act 1? Well, you’ll find out why in de Wet’s Act 2). But Masha (Andrew J. Carroll, in a sensational performance) did get to Moscow, and her homecoming launches this show. Her ex-lover Vershinin (the superb, subtle Colleen Corcoran) is also back, now a general in the White Army, being hunted by the Red Army.
Still crass and complaining is Natasha (Maria Konstantinidis), who is still abusing her beleaguered husband, Andrey (the marvelous Amanda Schoonover). A hanger-on playwright, Igor (Ross Beschler), and a niece, Sofja (Kishia Nixon, whose diction sticks out like a sore thumb), seem unnecessary complications in an already complicated plot.
The costumes, designed by Natalia de la Torre, strike just the right unnerving balance between male and female, and Thom Weaver’s scenic design is full of charm and insightful allusions to the original play as the past is simultaneously evoked and trashed.
I’m sure the allusions to South Africa are more complex than I understood, but certainly we can see that the era of white privilege is over (ownership of land and power is in contention) and “Everything is changed now.”
There’s a wonderful line from The Cherry Orchard, a Chekhov play not in play here, when a random character says, “Ladies and gentlemen, the sun has set.” You can say that again, after the Russian Revolution and the anti-aparteid revolution and the feminist revolution.
Perfectly expressing the three sisters’ situations is some late dialogue:
Masha: I’m so tired.
Irina: I’m so afraid.
Olga: I don’t see well anymore.