Theater review: Vivienne Benesch's first production as artistic director of PlayMakers is a fresh, indicting take on Chekhov | Arts
Arts
INDY Week's arts blog

Archives | RSS | Follow on

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Theater review: Vivienne Benesch's first production as artistic director of PlayMakers is a fresh, indicting take on Chekhov

Posted by on Tue, Feb 2, 2016 at 2:11 PM

click to enlarge Arielle Yoder and Allison Altman in PlayMakers Rep’s production of Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Libby Appel. - PHOTO BY JON GARDINER
  • photo by Jon Gardiner
  • Arielle Yoder and Allison Altman in PlayMakers Rep’s production of Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Libby Appel.
Three Sisters
★★★★ 1/2
PlayMakers Repertory Company, Chapel Hill
Through Feb. 7


In a prosperous society it’s easy to forget the taste of ashes—their acrid presence on the tongue contrasting with their lack of substance to the touch. That forgetfulness, as much as the problems of language, can make Anton Chekhov’s last three plays, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, read like documents from a different world.

In a sense, they are. By 1900, Chekhov knew he was writing at the end of an age-old Russian social order. His central characters are members of a privileged class who have coasted on inherited, and now quickly vanishing, wealth and influence. They are clearly in retreat, never using those resources to build or better themselves, their families, or their communities.

In a striking, sometimes shattering production, PlayMakers Repertory Company’s new artistic director, Vivienne Benesch, candidly assesses the fragility of the bell jar where siblings Andrei, Masha, Olga, and Irina have dwelled for eleven years, in a small Russian town, far from their beloved childhood home in Moscow.

At the outset, one year after the death of their father, a colonel in the Russian army, their social station has already slipped. The sisters notice how few visitors they’ve had since the poorly attended funeral, and they are shocked after their longtime servants are reassigned. But none of this has much impact on their disdain for their provincial surroundings or their abiding belief that such reversals are temporary inconveniences before an inevitable return to Moscow.

These cognitive dissonances are dwarfed by the society-wide disconnections Chekhov dissects. He documents an intelligentsia grown indolent—unable, despite its learning, to determine any viable direction forward. The hapless Andrei (kvetching Benjamin Curns), brother of the titled characters, complains that his body is “bloated with all that education." Masha (Arielle Yoder) calls it “a burden, like an extra finger.” An idealistic Irina and her fruitless suitor, Nikolai, rhapsodize on working-class life as only those who’ve never experienced it can: "It must be so wonderful to be ... someone who rises at daybreak and builds roads,” Irina gushes, concluding, “I’m as desperate to begin work as a thirsty man craves water.”

Nikolai doesn’t know the truth of his own words when he predicts that “a big storm ... will blow away laziness, indifference, [and] prejudice against the workers.” It did indeed—in the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917. Chekhov keeps hinting at a radical reordering of social values to come. Battery commander Vershinin (Joshua David Robinson), freshly arrived from Moscow, speculates that future generations may well find the cultural beliefs of his day “strange, stupid, awkward, and maybe even sinful.” Yes—but getting to that enlightened point is the problem.

Libby Appel’s 2012 adaptation is more fluid and conversational than earlier translations, offering modern immediacy in lieu of stilted discourse. Characters and audience members are all interrogated: “When did we start being boring, grey, dull, lazy, indifferent, useless, and unhappy?” Andrei looks out at us and demands. Benesch poses equally pressing questions throughout her fourth PlayMakers production (after guest directing In the Next Room in 2011, Red in 2012, and Love Alone in 2014), and her first since being named artistic director. A socially conscious creator, she is clearly interested in gender roles, the life of the underclass, and the fate of a society that has devalued manual labor.

The parallels between that society and ours invite more than momentary contemplation. By the end of Three Sisters, a troupe including Ray Dooley, Daniel Pearce, and Carey Cox have shown us a group of tragic figures, naked in their own naiveté and that of their culture, whose dreams have been crushed by an inconvenient and merciless reality.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Pin It

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Arts



Twitter Activity

Most Recent Comments

I want to share a testimony of how Dr. BEN herbal mixture cream saves me from shame and disgrace, my …

by Ethan Greg on Scott Crawford Refused to Sell Us a Plate of Food at Crawford and Son (Arts)

Hello everyone, i am here to share my testimony on how i enlarge my penis by a spell caster called …

by Berry Anny Love on Movie Review: Everyone Says Lego Flicks Are Uniquely Fun for Kids and Adults. We Sent One of Each to The Lego Batman Movie to Find Out. (Arts)

When discussing this play, you need to be cautious not to imply that it's an accurate depiction of autism. Mark …

by Curio Onscreen on Theater Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Lights Up the Mathematics of the Mind (Arts)

First comment sounds like Crawford wrote it.

by Chris Kassel on Scott Crawford Refused to Sell Us a Plate of Food at Crawford and Son (Arts)

Best ending should have been:

Aurora got really hurt by projectile (in movie it hit her arm). It should …

by Sergej on Movie Review: Passengers Proves a Bad Ending Can Ruin an Otherwise Good Movie (Arts)

Comments

I want to share a testimony of how Dr. BEN herbal mixture cream saves me from shame and disgrace, my …

by Ethan Greg on Scott Crawford Refused to Sell Us a Plate of Food at Crawford and Son (Arts)

Hello everyone, i am here to share my testimony on how i enlarge my penis by a spell caster called …

by Berry Anny Love on Movie Review: Everyone Says Lego Flicks Are Uniquely Fun for Kids and Adults. We Sent One of Each to The Lego Batman Movie to Find Out. (Arts)

Most Read

© 2017 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation