Theater Review: WHAT IF THEY WENT TO MOSCOW? (Christiane Jatahy at REDCAT)

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by Harvey Perr on February 23, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


The avant-garde seems more interested in re-invention these days than in invention, but from the point of view of someone who had thought that there was nothing new under the sun in the theater, it is amazing to come across, in the space of one year, Daniel Fish’s re-imagining of Oklahoma! in New York and Christiane Jatahy’s What If They Went to Moscow?, an import from Brazil that takes a multi-dimensional view of Anton Chekhov’s The Three Sisters in a manner so audacious it defies any expectations you might have. It makes us feel alive again, to understand again what is meant by indelible and essential in defining the theater experience and, above all, to define re-invention as invention itself.

In truth, there is only one line that is recognizably Chekhovian, and that one line is lifted not from The Three Sisters but from The Seagull (the one about Masha — Maria in this Portuguese and English translation — wearing black because she is in mourning for her life). But, in collaboration with her three actors (Isabel Teixeira, Julia Bernat, Stella Rabello) and her incredibly talented film crew, Jatahy reduces the play to one act and four characters and gets down to the essence — stifled lives and the impossibility of escaping boredom and tension without understanding the root of either — and provides a magical, even mystical, theatrical dissertation on both theater and cinema.

The show is performed twice. Audiences view it once in the theater and once in a makeshift cinema next door (including a 45-minute break, the full evening is just under four hours). Whether you see it first in the theater or the cinema is decided by the venue when you get the tickets. I saw it in the theater first.

On the performance level, we are caught up in the messiness of not only life but of process. On the cinematic level, it offers fluidity as well as the subtlety of the tiny human detail that can be missing when you can’t sneak into the corners of the mind while engaged in the broad spectrum of a full stage. So, in performance, you watch the shooting of the play, but, on film, you see all the things you didn’t notice while experiencing the play. It is sleight of hand, it is foreground versus background, it is mirror image, it is having the same experience not once but twice, and neither version seems to repeat the other. If this sounds too complex to even imagine, all the more reason to make sure you have the whole experience.

Of the too-many-to-recall productions of this play, I have never experienced Olga as fully as in this look at the three sisters dreaming to go to a Moscow they will never see. This is also true of us, the audience, who shall not, either, leaving the theater in the same state of confusion and emotional disarray as the characters. That it takes place today, dancing as the world crumbles, in the political world we are all involved in and confused by, forces us to see the differences between stasis and change.

This reviewer must add, by default, that, in 1957, Jean-Louis Barrault and Madeline Renaud brought their French theater company to America with a repertory that included Paul Claudel’s Christophe Colomb, a sprawling epic that reduced its central characters to infinitesimal parts of an historical event and, in order to see their internal struggle, a large screen captured them in close-up, beautifully showing us the basic difference between stage and cinema. I was lucky to have been there back then. We need both, and it proved fascinating to see, 62 years later, those differences explored again. Can’t live without theater, which, when it’s good, like that naughty person up the street, is very very good, and can’t live without film which lets us see an intimacy, a factor that is both the limitation and the greatness of theater.

This is one for the ages. And, gee, it is so much fun. I not only came to know the three sisters of Chekhov’s play in ways I hadn’t before, I liked being in the company of the three actors inhabiting those roles. This is theater, and REDCAT, in bringing it to us, proves once again that it is the place to be for those of us who demand that theater should give us more, not less.

top REDCAT photo by Vanessa Crocini
previous production photos courtesy of the artists

What If They Went to Moscow?
Christiane Jatahy
reviewed at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater)
631 West 2nd St (under Disney Hall)
ends on February 24, 2019
for tickets, call 213-972-8001 or visit REDCAT

for more info, visit Christiane Jatahy

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Virginia DeMoss February 25, 2019 at 6:16 pm

Thank you! Great review of this absolutely magnificent piece.


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