Salvage Vanguard Theater's Thr3e Zisters
This zombified take on Chekhov gets reanimated right when we need women who will bite back at the patriarchy
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Feb. 17, 2017
How fitting for Austin to receive another visit from the revivified corpses of Olga, Masha, and Irina just as the Texas Lege has reconvened in the state Capitol and the man who made sexist, body-shaming, and assaultive comments against women while campaigning for the highest office in the land has been installed as our misogynist-in-chief. For in Lola B. Pierson's deconstruction of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters, first staged by Salvage Vanguard Theater in 2015, the siblings who famously pined for Moscow are, you could say, grabbed by the pussy and yanked from the grave by a bunch of men who, like so many of those testosterone-fueled prigs in the statehouse and the White House, seek to possess and control women out of the belief it's their God-given right to do so.
The dudes doing the disinterring of the deceased Prozorov sisters here are the very ones who bedeviled them when they lived: the soldiers Tusenbach and Soleny, rivals for Irina's affections; and Vershinin, who had an affair with Masha but wouldn't leave his wife for her. They stand for not just the characters in the play but also the countless stage companies and directors that have revived Three Sisters over time and insist on reviving it again and again and again out of their adulation of Chekhov and desire for the titular siblings. As the men shear the shrouds off the zombified women and prep them for yet another round of the same old story (applying Kewpie-doll makeup while the women's necks are in stocks), Soleny also takes on the role of academic critic, loudly proclaiming the merits of the groundbreaking Anton and sneeringly dismissing attempts by Americans, and especially method actors, to do justice to the playwright's work onstage. (Noel Gaulin's pauses for emphasis and extreme volume give the material a steroid injection of pomposity.)
For the guys, this never-ending replay is all about getting their own rocks off – and that's no euphemism. We see it: as Jay Byrd's clinical Tusenbach has Irina ride him like a horse, an apple stuffed in his mouth; as Zac Crofford's pity-partying Vershinin lets Masha pour hot wax on his bare back; and as that gasbag Soleny beats off under a book while pontificating to Olga. Even the Prozorov brother Andrei – Robert Matney, hitting Chekhovian notes of listlessness and haplessness with perfect pitch – treats his dead but not reanimated wife Natasha as nothing but a sex toy. Moscow, Schmoscow – the city isn't even on their radar, any more than any of the women's other needs or wants are.
Having been through all this before – too many times before – the zisters are over it. As Olga, Masha, and Irina, Heather Hanna, Shawn Sides, and Jenny Larson, respectively, swing back and forth between ennui and resentment. They're stuck in a Russian Groundhog Day, being objectified and manipulated by these self-serving pigs, only with no way to make the endless loop they're suffering through get any better.
Their misery, however, is our delight, as the revival of Thr3e Zisters contains the same elements that made the first production so exhilarating. While this staging feels smaller than the one in SVT's dearly departed space, it's lost none of the theatrical energy or ingenuity that made it an award winner: the beauty and creepiness of Ia Ensterä's set, with its shredded couches, parlor walls lined with hundreds of pages, and unmoored wall that hurtles at the audience; Natalie George's lights, moving from lush washes of color to blazing white spotlights from unexpected sources; the wit and intensity of Robert Fisher's sound; Jessica Gilzow's time-worn costumes, ranging from the sad to the sinister; and the innovative direction by Yury Urnov, utilizing the entire space to make every moment visually dynamic and charged with sardonic humor.
It would be too much to expect the men working so hard to legislate what women can and can't do with their own bodies to see the wrong in what the men in the play are doing, but it might be instructive for them to see the show anyway, just for the ending. Because eventually, Olga, Masha, and Irina get fed up with their treatment by these patronizing men and show they can bite back. Literally. Their teeth sink deep into flesh, drawing from their abusers howls of pain and freshets of blood. It might give our own would-be masters of women pause to see the satisfied looks on the gore-soaked faces of the three zisters, looks that suggest revenge has never tasted so sweet.
Thr3e ZistersThe Off Center, 2211 Hidalgo
Through Feb. 18
Running time: 1 hr., 5 min.