KPBS AIRDATE: February 23, 2007
You could call it Fire and Ice. Three blazing, passionate Southerners; three Russians frozen in place. Sibling rivalry and revelry span a century and cross continents, in a thrilling double bill at New Village Arts. The spunky, 6 year-old theater company says it’s the very first time these two plays have been paired, juxtaposed and presented in repertory. The international classic is Chekhov’s 1901 masterwork, “Three Sisters,” in a lyrical, colloquial translation by Irish playwright Brian Friel. “Crimes of the Heart,” pure Southern fried American gothic, garnered the Pulitzer Prize in 1982. There’s no way that playwright Beth Henley didn’t have Chekhov in mind when she penned her comic drama. In fact, there are so many commonalities between the two works that New Village is staging a contest, with prizes for the most similarities spotted.
Whether you go for the competitive or the theatrical challenge, you definitely should see both these excellent productions. Part of the charm is watching the same actors play both sets of siblings. Kristianne Kurner, Jessica John and Amanda Sitton are wonderfully together, alternately contentious and compassionate.
“Crimes” takes a deliciously black comic view of small-town Southern life – focusing on the loopy, dysfunctional Magrath family of Hazlehurst, Mississippi. These sisters share a family history of suicide, a survivor mentality and a self-destructive penchant for bizarre predicaments. The fussy oldest sister is slipping into spinsterhood. The youngest has just shot her husband in the stomach. And the middle one was recently released from the loony bin. Under the pitch-perfect direction of Dana Case, these women, and the men in their lives, are superbly portrayed, each character carved out with comedy, care and considerable affection.
The tone is typically more somber in Chekhov, but director Francis Gercke has mined all the humor and maximized the music in this tale of another trio of parentless sibs (oops! I just gave something away!). These three elegant, privileged Russians find themselves stranded in a provincial town, longing for their rose-tinted past in the Moscow of their youth. They talk of leaving, they rhapsodize about work, but they go nowhere, do nothing. Fall in and out of love, always with the wrong person. The mostly marvelous cast of 14 finds energy, excitement and a great deal of heart in the profound ennui of the gentry, the decay of the upper class, and the search for meaning in the modern world. Competing philosophies are endlessly espoused; perhaps the anguish and despair could burrow a little deeper. But there is so much to love about these two plays and productions that you’ll want to grab your notepad and hotfoot it up to Carlsbad. Delight in the performances, the divergences and the prize-potential similarities.
©2007 Patté Productions Inc.