Nick Salamone and Maury R. McIntyre
Chekhov Now Festival
Connelly Theatre, NYC
Review by Catherine Lamm
If Chekhov and Satre got together to create a musical, it would be Moscow! The "Chekhov Now Festival" has imported the award winning Moscow which won an audience favourite and Fringe First award in Edinburgh in 2001. Nick Salamone and Maury R. McIntyre took on the daunting task of modernizing and interpreting the dreary Three Sisters. What they have managed to do is assign, extremely well but in the loosest way, the characteristics of Olga, Irina, and Masha to the characters of Jon, Luke, and Matt respectively.
Three gay men, Jon, Luke, and Matt find themselves in a dark theatre not knowing how long they have been there or if they will get out. Very No Exit. With only a copy of a copy of Three Sisters Jon feels that playing Three Sisters is a great distraction.
Being familiar with Three Sisters helps but there is sufficient explanation starting with the opening number, "Cliff Notes". This is a very intelligent musical that expects much of its audience, not the least of which is to pay attention and keep up.
The brilliant ensemble cast exercise their characters and alter-characters weaving in and out of the play within a play. The music and lyrics are sharp and haunting. Who could not admire someone who had such mastery over words to make "When one reads a fiction, it all seems formulaic. But life's a strange addiction and never that prosaic." work well within the context and not jump out at you. While trying to seduce Matt, Nic Arnzen as Luke, plumbs a broad range of emotions from the very beautiful, if raw, love song, "Touch", when all he wants is to be held.
Jessica Kubzansky does not always succeed in the direction, eg. a fight scene (tussle) between Jon and Luke all the way upstage is difficult to hear and understand. Musical direction by Chris Lavely, spare set by John Binkley, costumes by Jana Rosenblatt, and lighting by Jeremy Pivnick work well and do not get in the way of the stories and the relationships. Kodos to the musicians, Mr. Lavely, Alma Cielo and Tessa Laburn.
Clay Storseth plays Jon (Olga/Vershinen), "old maid" of the trio who feels that love is behind him. Mr. Storseth strains somewhat at the seniority of the role. Nic Arnzen as Luke (Irina) manages a good balance between the stud who is both angry, frightened at not knowing where they are, and the son rejected by his homophobic, red-necked father who wants, needs to have human contact to feel safe. Alan Mingo, Jr. the new Matt (Masha) finds the very delicate balance between the shy, love-struck virgin and the kid who grew up singing Diana Ross with his dotty mother.
As a critic, I am lucky if, once a year, I see a production that is fresh and exciting. Although Moscow is not without shortcomings, this diamond in the rough is worth the trip to East 4th Street.