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A CurtainUp Review
Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow

"That's what life is, I think: doing horrible things and complaining about them."

Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow
(L–R) Chris Perfetti, Tavi Gevinson and Rebecca Henderson (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Leaving MCC's sparkling new space, after watching Halley Feiffer's Three Sisters adaptation entitled Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow, I overheard another audience member wistfully recall the more traditional plays that the company produced back when it was downtown. Hearing this, I couldn't help but consider this latest premiere within the broader experimentation and diversification afoot at MCC as the theater has transitioned uptown.

MCC's 2018/19 season began downtown with Jen Silverman's gender and sexuality romp Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties, said goodbye to the Lortel with an encore run of Jocelyn Bioh's School Girls, OR The African Mean Girls Play, arrived in Hell's Kitchen with The Light, and continued with the Steven Sater/Duncan Sheik musical Alice by Heart and Aziza Barnes's BLKS.

In this time, the theater has featured a laudable number of works by women or gender-nonconforming playwrights, spotlighted diverse artists and characters, and pushed audiences with a combination of more and less traditional fare. It's been exciting to watch and—at least in my view if not my fellow audience member's—a commendable use of the visibility that comes with the completion of such a big move.

Moscow is among the more out-there productions of the inaugural uptown season, capping the year off with a postmodern deconstruction of Russian drama at its most Russian. Directed by Trip Cullman and situated in the ambiguous space between comedy and drama, Feiffer's take on Checkov offers an intriguing distillation of the original work.

She acknowledges, and even embraces, its arguable shortcomings, such as its tendency towards melodrama and repetitiveness. Her use of metatheatrical humor (in the same vein as the Great Comet prologue, but continued through the entire play) can be heavy handed, as can be the self-conscious millennial speak used by many of the characters. But the sum total is an entertaining examination of the subtext of one of the classics of the modern era.

A ready asset in this effort is the cast, which features a number of performers who can play comfortably in the weighty-yet-mocking tone of the script. Rather than rely on any one performer for comedic relief, Feiffer and Cullman create opportunities for each character to joke, to be joked about, and to experience more serious moments.

This especially showcases the strengths of the three sisters: Olga (Rebecca Henderson), Masha (Chris Perfetti), and Irina (Tavi Gevinson). The three effortlessly and precisely bounce dialogue off of one another, collectively heightening their existential despair. Henderson excels in highlighting her character's blunt dowdiness. Perfetti ably deploys Masha's desperate desire for excitement and attention. Gevinson brings a brusque naivete and genteel wariness to her portrayal of Irina.

Feiffer is hardly sentimental in her characterizations of the sisters, who often come across as rude and entitled, but these portrayals allow their sincere moments to land more pointedly.

Many of the other characters operate a bit more one-dimensionally, or with fewer degrees of nuance, but seemingly calculatedly and still successfully. Steven Boyer alternates in and out of a frenetic energy in depicting Tuzenbach, whose flamboyant behavior makes the other characters suspect he is secretly gay, despite his professed love for Irina. (Boyer and Gevinson's scenes are some of the more emotionally grounded and interesting here, along with those between the sisters.)

Meanwhile, Sas Goldberg's comical evolution as Natasha across scenes puts the character's ascension into stark relief. Alfredo Narciso gets plenty of mileage out of a recurring joke about Vershinin's propensity for referencing his family in conversation. Ryan Spahn's Kulygin similarly cashes in on his endearingly dorky love of Latin. Even Ako's minimal turn as the maid Anfisa uses the character's simple primary trait—that she is old and ineffective—as a well heightened motif that marks the slippage of time.

The production benefits from the incredible intimacy of the Frankel Theater, with every seat offering an up close view of the action and allowing the performers to make more of facial expressions and other physical nuances. The set by Mark Wendland, with a narrow stage slicing through two audience bleachers, is well designed for the theater and maximizes the close proximity between the audience and the performers.

Sound design by Darron L West adds additional environmental detail and the lighting by Ben Stanton is considerate of the space as well as the script. Paloma Young's costumes, meanwhile, cleverly meld the aesthetics of the present day with those of Checkov's.

Such a melding of contemporary style with century-old material is Feiffer's overall MO here, too. It's a curious venture, sometimes uneasy, but often compelling. There are certainly risks entailed—the tone is likely to be offputting to traditionalists, while others may find its constructed hipness to seem pandering.

Regardless, though, it's clear that as a result of her intervention, Feiffer has accessed the text in a novel and enlightening way, offering new ways to consider Checkov's characters and their motivations. Finding and embracing both the comedy and the darkness in the work, Feiffer—along with Cullman and the cast—has created in Moscow a new Three Sisters that brims with absurdity and energetically blows apart its source material.

Editor's Note: When Moscow. . . premiered at williamstown in 2017, it ran at over two hours, whiich our critic there didn't feel it warranted. (To read that review, which includes links to previous Pfeiffer plays Curtainup has reviewed go here). Pfeiffer and Tripman wisely also felt a trimmer production was called for, and so it now clocks in at a neat 93 minutes without intermission.

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Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow
by Halley Feiffer
Directed by Trip Cullman

with Ako (Anfisa), Steven Boyer (Tuzenbach), Tavi Gevinson (Irina), Sas Goldberg (Natasha), Rebecca Henderson (Olga), Greg Hildreth (Andrey), Matthew Jeffers (Solyony), Gene Jones (Ferapont), Alfredo Narciso (Vershinin), Chris Perfetti (Masha), Ryan Spahn (Kulygin), and Ray Anthony Thomas (Chebutykin)
Scenic Design: Mark Wendland
Costume Design: Paloma Young
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton
Sound Design: Darron L West
Production Stage Manager: Lori Ann Zepp
Running Time: 93 minutes with no intermission
MCC Theater, Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, 511 West 52nd Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues)
Tickets: $64–84; (646) 506-9393,, or in person at the theater
From 6/26/2019; opened 7/18/2019; closing 8/3/2019--extended to 8/17/19
Performance times: Evening performances Mondays–Saturdays at 7:30 pm, matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2:30 pm, and an additional matinee Sunday, July 21 at 2:30 pm
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 7/12/2019 performance

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