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Open: 09/29/10- Close: 10/10/10 Three Sisters Come And Go
Reviewed for By: Heather Violanti

“So beautiful so sad.  Isn’t that enough?” asks a character at the end of Three Sisters Come and Go, now playing at TheaterLab.  The answer is yes and…..not yet.  The piece is indeed beautiful and sad--sometimes wondrously so--but it does not, as yet, sustain itself throughout.   Sometimes its head overwhelms its heart.  

The piece is built around a dazzling conceit; it explores the nature of melancholia through the works of Beckett (specifically Come and Go), Chekhov (the major plays), and philosopher Julia Kristeva (particularly The Black Sun).  Constructed in movements, it begins with a stunning staging of Come and Go.  Then, it dissolves into scenes and monologues interpolated from Chekhov’s Three Sisters, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard.  In connecting Beckettian despair to Chekhovian regret, the company adds on one more layer-- Julia Kristeva’s theories on depression, which link melancholia to the creation of art and understanding of self.   All these strands have been woven together, with varying success, by director/dramaturg Orietta Crispino, dramaturg Marco Casazza and cast members Liza Cassidy, Claire Helene, and Jackie Lowe.

Crispino stages the Beckett movement with refreshing vigor.   Walking into the airy “white box” space (the walls, chairs, and floor are white instead of traditional black), you feel a thrill of the new and strange, despite it all being so familiar.  The three actors, their eyes obscured by wide-brimmed straw hats, sit intently in a row on stage, half obscured in the dim light.  This is exactly what Beckett demands in his stage directions, but Crispino realizes it with incredible lightness.  .  Many directors lose themselves in Beckett’s angst;  Crispino and her company find humor and mystery as well as the woe.  Every beat is simply and sharply observed.  No one falls into monotone or forced despair; each character is vivid yet unknowable.

Then, Beckett’s self-described “dramaticule” ends. Black curtains close.  Music by Mahler blares, and suddenly the curtains part to reveal Chekhov’s archetypal three sisters, dressed head to toe and black, standing in repose against a field of white.  Each holds aloft a black umbrella.  They stand together and yet face away from each other, “their upper bodies seem to originate from onestem, creating a tree-like silhouette against the white background” according to the script.  At once comic and tragic, their stance evokes the tree imagery so prevalent in Chekhov’s plays, from the birches in Three Sisters to the ancient forest of The Cherry Orchard. They launch into a condensed version of Three Sisters’ opening scene, emphasizing key gestures and lines that will serve as motifs throughout the Chekhovian movements.   

As the piece progresses, the text deviates more pointedly from its sources.  “New” monologues are assembled collage-like from dialogue across the Chekhovian canon.   Lines from Uncle Vanya melt into something from The Seagull, and so on.  With each monologue, the actors deliberately engage with the audience.  Jackie Lowe flirts with us like a coy suitor; Claire Helene sits amongst us while confiding lost dreams;  Liza Cassidy stares us down during a comic nervous breakdown.

It s feels like a work in progress, though this being TheaterLab, that’s the point..  The two halves—Beckett and Chekhov—are not yet in sync.  From reading the program notes, I understand there’s an emotional resonance between Beckett’s enigmatic figures and Chekhov’s women, but from watching the performance I don’t always grasp what it is, particularly in the unsteady Chekhovian moments.  Things are so rooted in theory—in the idea of grief, the idea of performance, the idea of repetition—that the actual feeling can become lost.   But for every moment of frustration, there is a glimpse of wonder—as when the curtain parts to reveal the three sisters for the first time, or when the actors sit in Beckettian silence as the audience enter.   These moments show the piece’s promise, and I look forward to its next incarnation.


Theaterlab : 137 W 14th St