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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow
By Bruce T. Paddock

My wife tried to kill herself again. I don't think she wants to die, I think she just wants the attention. She's fine, if anyone was wondering. The kids are traumatized, but she's fine. I'm gonna go now. — Vershinin
ebecca Henderson as Olga, Cristin Milioti as Masha, and Tavi Gevinson as Irina
Two years ago, Williamstown Theatre Festival started a program to commission new plays from playwrights, composers, and collaborative devisers from across the career spectrum. The first of those works to see the footlights is Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow, a modern retelling of Chekov's Three Sisters.

The playwright Halley Feiffer is fairly well along the "career spectrum despite being just 32 years old. She made waves and garnered acclaim in New York two years in a row, with I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard in 2015 and the wonderfully titled A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City last year. Unfortunately, 2017 isn't going as well.

Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow (you'll forgive me if I simply refer to it as Moscow from now on) has the same characters and settings, the same scenes, the same on-and-off-stage developments, as well as many of the same dialogue beats. And yet, it isn't simply a new translation of Chekov's work.

The difference is the tone, although it's hard to pin down exactly what the tone of this new play is. Sometimes it's a kind of post-modern hipster chic with a dollop of meta commentary thrown in; other times it's more of a blunt instrument.

The post-modernism is signaled as soon as the audience enters and sees Mark Wedland's set— which isn't really a set at all, but rather a collection of props and small pieces of furniture such as plastic waiting-room chairs.

Then the actors enter and begin a rapid-fire spewing of Feiffer's aggressively millennial dialogue. There's "You look dope as hell today, Masha. But you already know how hot you are." The affection for the source material manifests itself in gentle meta-kidding like "OK, real quick: Maybe this is dumb, but why can't we go back to Moscow?"

Thanks to a winning cast and director Trip Cullman's just-short-of-breakneck pacing, this works.

Chekov purists and traditionalists in general will probably take offence, but I thought it was hilarious, at least for a while. The first time a character interrupts another's exposition-laden speech with, "Why are you telling me this? I've known you guys for years," is funny. By the fourth or fifth time, the joke has been played out.

And so, as the first act, which comprises Acts I and II of Three Sisters powered along, I found myself wondering if the conceit would hold up for two and a half hours. The short answer is: It doesn't. The longer answer is: Feiffer and Cullman don't even try.

The second act —Acts III and IV of the original— is heralded by the red glow of the burning village. It starts off somber and becomes more and more depressing as it goes on. The difference in tone between the two acts is disturbing. I tried to find some artistic justification for it, some point that Cullman was making by changing gears so drastically. But I couldn't. And that lack of purpose is what's wrong with the show as a whole.

Feiffer has said that Chekov is her favorite playwright, and Three Sisters her favorite play. I imagine she had a tremendous amount of fun reworking it into Moscow. But if you're going to take on a classic in this way, you should have a larger purpose than self-amusement. Maybe it just takes others along on a spoof of a beloved icon. Maybe it has something new to say about the characters. Maybe it gives us new insights into their world, or into ours. Sadly, Feiffer's Moscow does none of these.

That's not to say that sitting through the play was a bad experience. The cast, which includes several fairly famous names, is uniformly excellent. Tony nominee Micah Stock is the standout, bringing much-needed sincerity to the role of Irina's doomed Tuzenbach. And I loved the hilariously cruel way Feiffer treats elderly servant Anfisa from the first scene to the last.

All told, Moscow is generally interesting, often entertaining, but ultimately unsuccessful.

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Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow by Halley Feiffer
Directed by Trip Cullman
Cast: Ako (Anfisa) Glenn Davis (Solyony) Rebecca Henderson (Olga) Sheaun McKinney (Vershinin) Thomas Sadoski (Andrey) Ryan Spahn (Kulygin) Harvy Blanks (Chebutykin) Tavi Gevinson (Irina) Gene Jones (Ferapont) Cristin Milioti (Masha) Jeanine Serralles (Natasha) Micah Stock (Tuzenbach) Scenic design: Mark Wendland
Lighting design: Ben Stanton
Costume design: Paloma Young
Sound design: Darron L. West
Stage Manager: Lori Ann Zepp
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes; one intermission
Williamstown Theatre Festival Nikos Stage; 1000 Main Street, Williamstown, MA
From 7/26/17; opening 7/29/17; closing 8/6/17
Reviewed by Bruce T. Paddock at July 30 performance

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