Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Miami Theater Center: Three Sisters (3 reviews)

Miami Theater Center debuted with its own adaptation of Chekov's Three Sisters on November 16, 2013
The startling family drama commissioned by the Moscow Art Theatre in 1899 launches Miami Theater Center in 2012. Experience an intimate new version of this influential Russian masterpiece.
Stephanie Ansin directed a cast that included Yvgeniya Kats, Emily Batsford, Diana Garle, Christian T. Chan, Wayne LeGette, Troy Davidson, Art Garcia, Theo Reyna, Nicole Lowe, Ana Mendez, Steve Gladstone, Linda Bernhard, and Howard Elfman.

Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
This Three Sisters is sensual in every sense, a pleasure for the ear and eye. The click of the camera and the flash to herald the fourth wall breaking monologues, the original music and sound design of Luciano Stazzone and Urban Tribal Project, the scampering maid, the gorgeously painted back wall, (or was it silk?), the thirteen ill-matched chairs at the dining table, the dressing screens, the armoire, the lighting and costumes of Calzadilla, the recorded playing of the instrumentalists, violinist Beatriz Vera with Luciano Stazzone on balalaika, cello, bass, piano and percussion, the vocals of Kata Decastro and Tatsiana Yarasevich, the choreography of Octavio Campos; an almost endless list.
...sixteen actors and if you think you'd need a score card to keep all these characters and stories straight, you'd be wrong, for Stephanie Ansin has directed this two hour piece well...
The acting was uniformly good in Three Sisters, with Wayne Legette and Howard Elfman leading the way.

An entertaining show, in all, with its terrific production values, unusual staging and good performances from the large cast.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater on Stage:
Let’s get it out there right at the top: Miami Theater Center’s inaugural adult project, a fresh vision of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, is not a smoothly gelling work of art, let alone entertainment. The flaws are considerable, persistent and cannot be discounted.

But they are outweighed by sustained bursts of dazzling imagination, passion, skill, craft, ingenuity and a commitment to creating a unique theatrical experience. MTC should not be paternalistically patted on the head for its ambition, but rewarded with the patronage of audiences yearning to see theater that strives to more than the status quo. With all its missteps, there is little else like this being produced by a large professional house anywhere in the region and probably the state.
The staging is both inspired and annoying, especially the location of the audience. One tactic to increase the intimacy was to build bleachers that only hold 49 patrons and place them on MTC’s vast stage. The risers then pivot toward different parts of the stage where different parts of the Prozorov household have been created. In addition, a large expanse of deck was built out from the lip of the stage into the first rows of seats in the auditorium to represent the garden for the last scene of the play.

This technique works marvelously in the third act and for much of the first two. Unfortunately, the intimacy vanishes in that last scene played out on the huge deck, located many yards from the audience... Yet Ansin is nothing if not a gifted visual director with a passion for precision timing. She moves her cast around the massive stage with a swirling fluidity as well as posing them in meaningful tableaus. The pacing is stately but not sluggish... 
One of the best is Howard Elfman’s portrayal of a recovering alcoholic doctor who has fallen off the wagon and is literally shaking with self-disgust in front of us after realizing that his withered medical skills have killed a patient.  Or watching a cuckolded husband played by Christian T. Chan tell himself that he’s happy when we can see his tortured face belie his self-deception.
With his posture, warm baritone and exchanged glances with other characters, LeGette limns a cultured, gracious man who optimistically dreams of a society in which a tiny minority of intelligent and sensitive souls like the sisters will multiply until they dominate the world.
The actresses playing the sisters (who must have had different mothers) are unassailable if not riveting. The tall willowy Yevgeniya Kats delivers the sense of Olga’s hatred of her job as a schoolmarm although the streamlined script leaves Olga more of a cipher than her siblings. Diana Garle is engaging as a Hispanic Irina who initially is suffused with the ecstatic enthusiasm of youth but whose spirit is chastened by the erosion of time. Best among equals is Emily Batsford whose grim-faced Masha has been disillusioned by her marriage until Vershinin’s forbidden love elevates and then destroys her.
But shed no tears for this production. MTC’s Three Sisters is a celebration of theatrical imagination that needs no excuses.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
As adapted by director Stephanie Ansin and designer Fernando Calzadilla, the newest take on a Russian theater classic aims to be inclusive and clear, welcoming and intimate. Intricate in its conception and benefitting from the work done over a long rehearsal period, MTC’s Three Sisters realizes its high ambitions on almost every level – script, design, performances, movement, music and sound. Is it flawless? No, but it is an enchanting, unique South Florida theatrical experience.
For this Three Sisters, the audience sits on a moveable onstage riser, at first facing the elegant public area of the Calzadilla-designed home and, beyond that, the dining room with its impossibly long table. Then, as the action shifts to a shared bedroom, we shift in that direction. After another turn, tragedy unfolds on a vast porch, then a hopeful note is sounded as the play ends where it began. Sounds dizzying, but moving the riser actually enhances the actor-audience connection.
Honed over two months of rehearsal, the performances are uniformly strong. Kats is a calm, level-headed Olga, a 28-year-old “spinster” who mothers the younger Irina. Batsford creates a tempestuous, deeply unhappy Masha, a woman dismissive in her dealings with her devoted husband Kulygin (Christian T. Chan), shameless in her surrender to the seductively charming Lt. Col. Vershinin (Wayne LeGette). Garle’s radiant Irina juggles disparate suitors, in particular the elegant Baron Tuzenbach (Troy Davidson) and the surly Captain Solyony (Art Garcia), but neither can compete with the imagined true love who awaits her in Moscow.
Utilizing multicultural casting and deliberately embracing such anachronistic touches as a tender snippet of a duet by LeGette and Batsford on Embraceable You, Ansin and Calzadilla have crafted a Three Sisters that has as much to say to 21st century Miami as Chekhov’s original did to Irina’s beloved Moscow more than 100 years ago.
Three Sisters plays at Miami Theater Center through December 22, 2012.

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