New York Theatre Workshop recently announced that it would present a starry revival of Chekov’s “The Three Sisters,” starring Greta Gerwig and Oscar Isaac under the direction of Sam Gold. Gold is well known for his irreverent take on the classics, from “King Lear” to “The Glass Menagerie,” but he’s going to have to up his game to top what Halley Feiffer and director Trip Cullman have done to the Chekhov masterpiece.
“Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow” opened Thursday at the MCC Theater, and never have the three Russian sisters been so funny funny funny in wanting to return to their hometown.
Imagine if Carol Burnett had eschewed vintage movies on her old TV series and taken on Chekhov instead. That gives you an idea of this current camp fest at MCC.
Cullman doesn’t merely have his actor over-stress the subtext. In the original, Chekhov’s bored sisters and their circle of equally put-upon siblings, in-laws, servants, barons, doctors, soldiers and other hangers-on are very open about expressing what’s wrong with their respective lives.
Feiffer cuts down what is typically a three-hour play to a breathtaking 95 minutes, which, right there, only pushes the collective Russian ennui into the Urals of the ridiculous. Add in expensive sneakers, celeb t-shirts, lots of F-bombs, cross-dressing (the male actor Chris Perfetti plays the tortured diva Masha), plenty of Internet jargon and even a whoopee cushion. In addition, the actors occasionally break into a chorus to laugh, “Ha! Ha! Ha!” and repeatedly call each other out whenever one provides too much exposition in the style of the Russian master himself.
“Moscow” follows the “Sisters” plot very closely, and after an incredibly raucous first act, Feiffer and Cullman allow their troupe to settle into occasional moments of genuine poignancy, although the broad laughs are never far away. Alfredo Narciso’s dreamboat Vershinin delights every time he ponders “two hundred years from now.” Ryan Spahn drips optimism playing Masha’s oblivious husband; at one point, his Kulygin even shows up in onesie pajamas carrying ice cream cones to his distraught wife.
Steven Boyer turns Tuzenbach into a closeted homosexual and Tavi Gevinson’s frisky Irina is up for marrying him anyway. Greg Hildreth’s Andrey, the sisters’ would-be academic older brother, handles a baby carriage in a way that communicates every father’s contempt for his own children. And as his family outcast of a wife, Sas Goldberg changes outfits (costumes by Paloma Young), as well as wigs, to signal every one of Natasha’s many temper tantrums.
Most remarkable, Rebecca Henderson playing schoolmistress Olga never overplays Feiffer’s many zingers and ends up grounding the burlesque. The cast also includes AKO, Matthew Jeffers, Gene Jones and Ray Anthony Thomas playing characters whose purpose I can’t always figure out even in the original.
Does Feiffer’s take offer any new insights into “The Three Sisters”? No, but then neither did Burnett’s send-up of “Gone With the Wind.” I did laugh out loud a lot, though, which is more than I can say about the three major critics who, sitting across from me in the theater, rarely cracked a smile. Purists.