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Little Green Pig defrosts Chekhov--at last--in Three Sisters

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Is it hot in here, or is it just us? Katja Hill, - Gigi DeLizza and Dana Marks in Three Sisters (On Ice) - PHOTO COURTESY OF LITTLE GREEN PIG THEATRICAL CONCERN
I'm fairly certain that, wherever he was, director Jay O'Berski was chortling to himself as he read my column last week. Particularly this part: "Clearly, artists have the right to reimagine the classics, to try to make their own interpretive mark upon the immortals. When they do, we root for them to find new insights in familiar text, and new connections to our times."

Ladies and gents, the other shoe has landed. A week after Playmakers decanted an emotionally and aesthetically reduced Cyrano de Bergerac for a downsized age, the Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern's production of Three Sisters (On Ice) caroms off the far wall of dramatic anarchy--before ultimately landing in fair territory.

Particularly in the first act, this outsized, profane and gleeful decent into emotional slapstick and existential carnival repeatedly seems more an abduction of Chekhov (albeit from the cold, dead fingers of Constantin Stanislavsky) than it is an adaptation. In some places, when O'Berski's company isn't mercilessly riffing on Brian Friel's translation--imagine Ornette Coleman writing a little something for The Second City and you're in the right neighborhood--they appear to discard it completely.

But don't be fooled. If throwaway lines riddle a few sections of the evening, there are precious few throwaway gestures--and even fewer images--that are safe to disregard, despite a façade of randomness at times. (All right, all right--the toilet paper headband that graces the head of Tom Marriott at one juncture as Dr. Chebutykin? That you can write off without worry.)

At the outset, three Moscow chicks, stuck in the sticks, are quickly succumbing to what quite possibly is the worst case of cabin fever in recorded history. All dressed down--but with no place to go--Dana Marks' Masha hungers for big-city glamour; her black silken lingerie, matching polished cigarette holder and risqué pageboy haircut little more than the futile recollection of an urban sensuality now eclipsed. Katja Hill's responsible Olga pines for respect, acknowledgment--with an occasional day off, how about it? And although her character laughably fixates on the sexuality of labor here, Gigi DeLizza's Irina longs for agency above all--the power to actually change any element of the world around her.

Good luck with that one. Because it seems the members of this family only slip out of neutral gear to wed the most disastrous match available--and then ache for partners who are justifiably unattainable.

Masha is yoked to Michael O'Foghludha's milquetoast Latin scholar, Kulygin, a cuckold who's ultimately propped like a forgotten doll--with a fixed, eerie grin to match--against the head of a bed in the corner.

Masha's drawn to Vershinin, a more than slightly scuzzy army colonel whose optimism about the future recalls our current military leadership. As performed by Mark Jeffrey Miller, Vershinin's departing monologue is so oilily animatronic that the lie shines through.

Meanwhile, human piranha Natasha (played to psychotic perfection by Hope Hynes) is devouring Jeffrey Detwiler's Andrei, who, as the sister's musically gifted brother, hadn't been terribly robust to begin with.

Seemingly fated to follow suit is Irina. Loved by Adam Sampieri's ukulele-toting Baron Teuzenbach, stalked by his rival, Captain Solyony (in a notable interpretation by Gergor McElvogue), and without the first clue about human relationships, Irina's a poignant 22-year-old girl-child, permanently suspended in a disastrously extended adolescence.

By now one thing's clear: Parcheesi's not the answer for this crew. Not any more. All of them--and then some--need a change of partner. Not to mention scenery.

Do the girls--or anybody else in this show--actually "catch that elusive train to Moscow" as the publicity suggests might occur? Sorry. You'll have to buy a ticket for the answer to that one. But I will say that the nearly hallucinogenic trip the audience takes on the way to finding out is worth the price.

I'll also say that a night filled with bizarre but fitting symbolism, vivid imagery and plot twists that ultimately stay faithful to the source manages to juxtapose absurd fantasies with the even more absurd human truth about learned helplessness. There's some victory in that, after an hour of slapstick Schadenfreude, the most imaginative evening in the theater this year doesn't manage to leave us--completely--without hope.

Bon voyage.

E-mail Byron at bwoods@indyweek.com.

Three Sisters (On Ice)
4 1/2 stars
Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern
Manbites Dog Theater
Through May 13

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