Sunday, October 25, 2009

What Happened at the Playhouse Last Night?

"Three Sisters" by Anton Chekhov is currently being presented at Cincinnati's Playhouse in the Park. My husband and I attended the preview show last night. I am still trying to explain to myself what happened. The play we saw was adapted by a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright. It was directed by a Tony winning director. The set designer is a Tony winner. The costume designer is a Tony winner. The actors were high caliber, having appeared on Broadway, and one a Tony winner.

The photo above was used in the promotion of the play. Maybe that was part of the problem. When we entered the theater, we wondered if we were in the right place. From what I heard from others around me, they were wondering the same thing. The stage looked like a disaster area. It couldn't have been bleaker. A monotone setting, depicting what looked like an abandoned warehouse, with crumbling walls and a debris-strewn floor. There was one bare light bulb for lighting effect. We couldn't tell if it was supposed to be a home, a factory, a military outpost, or an old office building. The room was furnished with a large wooden desk, an overturned desk chair, and a couple of metal folding chairs. Some of the actors were hidden, crouching in dark corners. They all were dressed in torn, tattered, dirty clothes. The whole atmosphere was bleak, dreary, and hopeless; that was the point of the play, I guess.

The characters did not seem to relate to each other at all; each spoke their lines as if they were performing a soliloquy. There really wasn't much of what I could identify as dialogue; lines seemed to arise suddenly, out of nowhere, with actors leaping suddenly into action from their dark corners. Sometimes it was difficult to tell who was speaking, much less to whom.

I have never thought of myself as particularly unsophisticated or dense. I read the New York Times and do the crossword puzzle every Sunday. I am generally well-read. I studied Classics and French literature in college (maybe I should have studied Russian literature). I watch C-Span and listen to public radio. I don't think I am a "dumb" person; but I did not "get" the play last night. It wasn't just me; many others were leaving at intermission, too. I wonder how many were left in the audience for the second act. I thought to myself, surely Cincinnati will be embarrassed at the number of people who failed to appreciate this play. But I was one of them. I'm still not sure what happened.


Jenn Jilks said...

I have attended productions like this, Judy! It is a shame that some have to reinvent a treatment of a beautiful work, only to leave behind the tone, the timbre, and the affective sensibilities of the piece. My son, an actor, often talks about new treatments.

I like to go back in time, if seeing a piece of the 20's, I like things to be so. It is jarring, is it not?

I would have left, and have done so when i had a theatre subscription. It is too incongruous.

Good post.

judy in ky said...

Thanks, Jenn. Many people were leaving, as we were. I wonder how many people were still there after the intermission. I don't think the actors were at fault at all; they were dealing with the material and the directions they were given.