the hypocrites, three sisters @ den theater, 23 May 2015.
Sometimes a play has one moment that that takes it to a whole different level, that vibrates or soars or explodes far more strongly than the rest of the production.
Such was the case with The Hypocrites’s light approach to Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters. Adapted and directed by Geoff Button, the play flowed by with ease and almost jollity. It was superficial, in part because it purposely strived to surf the surfaces of Chekov’s subtle study rather than dive into its depths. This is a quiet play in conventional renderings, one that chronicles all the nuances of a Russian family stuck in the provinces around the turn of the twentieth century. The three sisters at the heart of the play pine to reach the metropole of Moscow and they reel from various bad decisions about marriages and jobs and family life.
In The Hypocrites’s version, we only rarely received the self-aware sadness that Chekov’s script suggests are felt by the Prozorov family and the soldiers garrisoned in its provincial town. There is a sense of remorse, disappointment, and a feeling of “This is it? Is this all there is?” that lurks all around the lives of the sisters and the people surrounding them. Other than through humor and absurdity, The Hypocrites only addressed the muck of the characters’s emotional lives occasionally. The acting was solid, if at times a bit exaggerated (poor Erin Barlow, playing peasant girl family interloper Natasha, has to turn her into a kind of evil stepmother character, and does a fine job of pushing the role into that register). But this was a play that wanted to stay atop the brooding rather than probe inner struggles.
Which is to say that in this version of Three Sisters, the characters were lost souls. They floated rather than remaining stuck in place. They were neither quite in crisis, nor settled or fully resolved yet to their fates. This was the strength of the production: in staying on the surface, it captured a certain kind of waywardness, a sense of being adrift. But there was also a kind of formlessness to the portrayals of the sisters and their family and surroundings: catching the mood of people unmoored meant coming close to the brink of audiences asking “why should we care?”
Then, suddenly, toward the end of the play, Lindsey Gavel took middle sister Masha there. Speaking to her sisters of her illicit love for lieutenant colonel Vershinin, whom Button playfully has the sisters label “Major Puppylove” (Vance Smith portrays the character nicely), Gavel’s Masha spoke with an eruption of deeper authenticity as she announced to her sisters how they could not know that a person does not choose love, but rather it seizes the person. It was a moment that struck an altogether different tone—more resonant, more defined, more articulated—than the rest of the production. It was a moment when something far more mysterious, heartfelt, and complex welled up through The Hypocrites’s pleasantly quick-moving shallows.