Friday, February 20, 2009

"Three Sisters"

The setting is perfect for a Russian tragedy—a cemetery celebrating its anniversary with the play itself. Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles has teamed up with Chalk Repertory Theatre to bring the production of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” to the stage. Unfortunately, this ‘re-imagining’ would have had the playwright rolling over in his grave. The production has all the components of a solid play—beautiful script, pedigreed actors, and an incredibly spooky setup. However, the play drags, and the tragic spirit in which Chekhov wrote the play has been completely distinguished.

The play, with a run from January 30 to February 22, is being put on in the cemetery in a Masonic Lodge that was built in 1925. The setting is incredible, with high vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. The room is set up with no outside light coming in, and audience members are encouraged to sit in rows lined up on either side of the room. The performance is conducted almost in the round, and actors often walk among the audience members. However impressive the theater is, the blocking prevents some of the audience from seeing important scenes. Actors are sometimes positioned in corners, and can’t be viewed by everyone. This leads to viewers craning their necks just to see some of the actors.

The cast members are all competent, accomplished actors, but they have turned every piece of dialogue into drawn out soliloquies. This results in the play becoming boring and trite, instead of staying true to the passion and emotion in Chekhov’s works.

Perhaps the most famous cast member is Ricardo Antonio Chavira, who plays Carlos Solis, Eva Longoria’s husband, on “Desperate Housewives.” Chavira has taken on the role of Vershinin, a battery commander who has taken residence in the same Russian town as the three sisters. Chavira has an impressive, booming voice, but his monologues were some of the most passionless parts in the entire play. Actress Jennifer Chang, who plays Masha, is probably the most talented of the bunch, but she is given more scenery chewing pieces than the rest of her cast-mates.

Another disappointing element of the production is the forced laughs the company seems determined to insert in scenes that are traditionally supposed to be tragic and touching. Corey Brill, playing the part of Kulygin, is a talented comedian—unfortunately he is using his comedic talents in scenes which require heart wrenching intensity, not sight gags. The company should have felt comfortable enough with the script to let the audience sit in the misfortunes of the characters—instead of allowing the actors to make jokes at inopportune times.

There was certainly a lack of professionalism in the production as well. Scenes which required absolute stillness from the actors offered one cast member scratching his nose.

By the last act, the audience had grown so tired of the show that several people in the first rows could be seen nodding off. The concept of putting on a show with astounding acoustics in the lodge was an inspired choice, but this theater group should have been capable of bringing Chekov to life without infusing the show with boredom.

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