Friday, July 20, 2007
Daniel Veronese's Proyecto Chehov comes to New York's Lincoln Center Theater Festival from Buenos Aires. He unites a group of committed and idiosyncratic actors in a bare-bones, immediate, down and dirty adaptation of Three Sisters called Un Hombre que se Ahoga (A Man Who Drowns) that is everything I go to the theater for. No light cues, only some scratches on the violin for music, one prop - a newspaper, a few chairs, the cast wear their street clothes, but they change nothing about the essence of Chekhov's play (they even stick pretty closely to the text). The biggest difference about this production is that sexual roles are reversed. The three sisters and Masha are men, Solioni, Chebutykin, Tusenbach, Vershinen, Kulygin, and Andrei are women. This is not a "concept" they play it straight. They result is that I could discover this play all over again. All of the cliches went out the window - grieving old servants with kerchiefs on their heads, Natasha as a harpie, a hang dog Kulygin. Instead we saw Amfisa as an old man truly afraid he'll be thrown out onto the street because he's too old to work. Natasha is an utterly crazy and rude kid who doesn't fit in at all. Kulygin is a proud competent teacher who simply loves Masha and cannot help himself. Olga is jaded, broken and has completely imploded upon herself. There isn't even anger left. The sisters went from their old, busy, privileged life with their parents, to a house full of soldiers and dreams of a romantic future. When everyone finally leaves and the Baroness is killed in a duel - Irina only knows that life will go on and that she will work. It is not a romanticized notion of "work" it is simply what she will do tomorrow. Everything about this cast's work was precise and real. Andrei wasn't pathetic because he played a henpecked husband or a tired bureaucrat - he was truly pathetic because he was proud to be on the town council. This production was most remarkable because it didn't make a distinction between life and theater - the cast sat in chairs around the playing area reacting to each other, jumping up from those chairs into the center of the playing area when they entered the scene. When they reacted to each other's actions or performances there was no division between their smile at a choice their fellow actor made or their smile at the character on the stage. There were no characters and actors, only people naked and true before us. I could go and see this again tomorrow. In fact, I might. It reminded me of why I did theater for the last 22 years. The mystery to me is why there were empty seats in the house. Perhaps Chekhov cuts too close to the bone.