*What If They Went To Moscow?* 10/23/19

October 29, 2019

I saw *What If They Went To Moscow?* at BAM on 10/23/19. 

 

 It's a contemporary reworking of Chekhov's *The Three Sisters,* written and directed by Christiane Jatahy.  I was intrigued by the structure of the piece: we started in the theater at the BAM Fisher Center, watched the play, which was an hour and a half long.  There was a half hour intermission and we walked to the BAM Cinema down the street in the Opera House, and saw the same thing again as a movie.

 

It was resolutely contemporary in its presentation, yet it captured that Chekhovian mixture of strained high spirits and genuine angst.  The bone-deep sadness is never far under the surface for those poor Chekhov characters.

 

There was a fair amount of audience participation: Olga (my favorite of the sisters, played by Isabel Teixeira, the one on the right in the photo) passed out orange juice, champagne, cake.  I was sitting in the middle of a row, so I didn't get any of that.  And four or five members of the audience went onto the stage to dance with the characters at one point, that was cute.

 

The high point of the show was near the end.  Olga came onstage holding a candle, Lady Macbeth-like.  She had a monologue, her two sisters had left the stage, she was alone.  After a while we saw her sister Maria come up on the screen at the back of the stage, speaking to the camera, speaking to us.  The camera panned back a bit and we saw her sister Irina sitting next to her.  The camera panned back a bit more and we realized that they were at the BAM Cinema down the street!  That was a fascinating moment, real theatrical magic.

 

A few elements of the show were a bit...it would be rude to call them cliché, would it be nicer to call them recherché?  There was a lot of music and a lot of video, also some significant full frontal nudity and submerging in water.  Each of the three sisters went into a Lucite box full of water at one point.  All of these hot-at-this-moment theatrical elements made me think of a priceless quote by the French poet Paul Verlaine: "Everything changes but the avant garde."

 

It seems to me that the whole point of doing a show like this, as a play and then as a movie, would be to a) utilize those two media to their fullest, most idiomatic expression, and b) have them reveal things that you hadn't noticed in the other version.  That was not the case.  The movie version felt simply like a filmed version of what we had just seen, with very little difference or innovation,and nothing revelatory.

 

[Photo by Richard Termine, courtesy of the BAM Press Office]

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