Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review: Three Stuck Sisters

Anton Chekov once wrote a play entitled Three Sisters about three sisters whose lives virtually suck. By Right We Should Be Giants, produced by Lunar Energy Productions, takes inspiration from the Chekhovian classic, relocating the sisters to modern day Loraine, Ohio. But fear not, these are still the sisters you know. One sister is stuck in solitude. One sister is stuck in a loveless marriage. One sister is stuck in dream world. Do they get out of their sticky situations? No. And unfortunately the script, co-written by Nadia Sepenwol and Tim Van Dyck, is a bit sticky as well.
The script is stuck in a place of disconnect. The story is set in a near-recent time, 2007 thru 2009 to be specific, and place with many of the Chekhovian references needing modernizing. Some of the parallels don’t seem to fit as well as others. The play is set in a time of economic downfall where soldiers are returning from war. These elements are  merely touched upon and could benefit from additional boosts. Especially on the war front. By exploring what it means to potentially have PTSD in this economically woeful world could give the characters of Andy or Victor weight and dimension. Additionally some of the characters and plot points may not be necessary and serve mostly just to fill time. For example, the character of Allison, an Afghanistan vet, has virtually no arc but to be the person who is sent back to war. Before her last exit, she has a very odd love-filled interaction with Irina, which seems to come out of nowhere having never been explored on stage prior. Stylistically, Act I has a very different feel than Act II and Act III, almost as if it is a completely different play. This may be partially due to the dramatic scene change that occurs when the characters’ world collapses. Director Christopher Diercksen does his best taking a messy script and breathing life into it. He’s given an equally difficult challenge of a bizarrely designed set (featuring a seemingly unfinished wood floor), where actors come and go on and off stage almost as often as they speak. He’s given enormous restraints and figures out ways to make it engaging. Luckily, he is aided by some strong actors in the twelve member ensemble.
Caitlin Johnston, as the dreamer Irina, and George Salazar, as Nick, Irina’s lovelorn best friend, emerge as the highlights of the ensemble. Both Johnston and Salazar have amazing chemistry and are able to give their characters a genuine soul. Salazar’s shining moment occurs during the handgun dual with Casey Robinson’s ragin’ Cajun inspired Victor. Salazar shows his depth as an actor, selling the moment perfectly. And spoiler alert, kudos to the company for not going with a sound cue. This was one of the defining moments of the production. While some of the characters seem to tread on the surface, Samantha Fairfield Walsh’s Natalie packs a punch as the ill-received sister-in-law.
In the three-hour production, one of the big struggles besides tackling the script was maneuvering Jonathan Cottle’s set. Walking into the theater, you may be baffled to see what the floor of the set looks like. It looks unfinished, which seems like a poor design choice. Perhaps its justification is announced late into Act III, but untreated wood sitting under realistic furniture pieces is unpleasant to an audience’s eye. But despite the floor, once we broke out of the family’s house in Act I, defining the multiple locations in this world became muddy. Alana Jacoby’s lights helped as much as humanly possible but much of the time actors are forced to walk into the next scene just to exit the stage.
Tackling the classic Chekov play is an ambitious undertaking but when executed with precision, the power of the story can shine. The ideas behind Sepenwol and Van Dyke’s look marvelous on paper so perhaps by weaving in the many threads left hanging or unexplored, By Rights We Should Be Giants can be stunning.