I almost didn’t make it to this one. Alinor was in NYC, having gotten last-minute tickets to some Ham- play (not the one playing right now at Shakespeare on the Sound), and Olivia wanted a night off with Harry Potter. But I’ve seen a little bit of Dmitry Krymov before — the bizarre mash-up of ballet, puppetry, and pantomime that he called A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It), which I saw in Stratford in 2012 — so I flew solo to this world premiere riff on Chekov’s “Three Sisters.” It’s true that I’ve never seen that play and haven’t read it since college. But how often do you get a chance to see something like this?
The show started with the lights on and the cast working together to “lay the scene” with flat rectangles of cardboard held in place by masking tape. Assembling the set together was an important part of the staging, and perhaps the first quarter of the show consisted of Aubie Merrylees stage-managing the assembly of all the elements of a Chekov setting: the father’s grave, the houses of the sisters, the lake, the bar, the soldier’s barracks, a birch grove, a train. Some of the elements, including Merrylees’s eventual part of the writer Trigorin, appear from other Chekov plays, in his case The Seagull.
The cast is students and recent graduates from Yale Drama School, which institution co-produced the show. The actors were directed by Krymov and his Lab. The young Americans couldn’t quite do everything that the Russian cast did in 2012, though they were strong and worked well together.
One highlight was a solo scene by Shaunette Wilson, playing Olga the unmarried schoolteacher and eldest sister. She circled a table that had been used for a dinner scene earlier. Picking up each item from the table, she would name it: “This is a cup. This is a spoon. This is a saucer.” In the same matter-of-fact tone, she’d say, “I don’t need love. People marry for duty only. This is a knife.” As the scene swelled, she started mis-naming the cutlery. “This is a cup,” she’d say, holding the knife. “I don’t need love.” The subtext smashed the dishes and cleared the table in short order.
I suspect if I knew Chekov better I’d have seen more. Like Krymov’s Midsummer, the performance seemed animated by its commentary on the classical dramatic canon. The booming voice of an unseen director intruded at times, at one point telling Wilson to leave the stage because he wanted “another Olga,” who turned out to be Merrylees in drag. Wilson resisted going, and plead her case to the audience that “I was good, right?” She was, we all agreed. In another memorable moment, audience members were brought up on stage to waltz with the cast. (Alas, I hadn’t paid extra to sit in front!)
The title of the play takes the square root of three. This operation transforms the classic dramatic triangle into an irrational number. That strikes me as a pretty good metaphor for Krymov’s method.