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A CurtainUp Review
The Fourth Sister
Who rules here? Where is money? How will it all end?. . . How should we live?
---The General, who once fought in Berlin and Kabul and now tries to maintain a semblance of order in his household by having his three daughters change the bedsheets daily.
Marin Hinkle, Jessica Hecht and Alicia Goranson
(L-R) Jessica Hecht, Alicia Goranson, Marin Hinkle, (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
In an interview in the Vinyeard Theatre's newsletter, Janusz Glowacki acknowledges his debt to Chekhov's The Three Sisters by stating that "The world is one giant library. I like writing on the other side of an already written text, to relate to what has already been written." Yet he insists that his The Fourth Sister, which opens the Vineyard's season, is neither a variation or a continuation of Chekhov's famous play. Nevertheless, anyone familiar with those pipe-dreaming sisters will find Tania, Wiera and Katia more than mere ironic allusions to Olga, Masha and Irina.

As the Prozorov sisters dream only of going back to Moscow and a better world, Glowacki's sisters are the inheritors of that dream turned into nightmare. They too are the daughters of a General, this one a veteran of twentieth century wars who now looks for a modeling job to pay for his youngest daughter's dance lessons and who tries to maintain some semblance of order in his household by insisting on daily linen changes. Of course, this being post-Communist Russia, there is no order in this city of broken dreams. It's plain to anyone who follows the news that it will take years for Russia to get its house in order. Glowaki's vision is even more pessimistic.

Like Hunting For Cockroaches, Polish-born Glowacki's best known play, The Fourth Sister is a surrealist comedy with the comic and surreal elements used to enable viewers to take in the horror and absuridity of this collapsed society. Not everyone will relate to this stylistic mix or a play in which every character's favorite phrase is " I'm depressed. "

It all begins amusingly enough with a mock staging of an Oscar awards ceremony at which John Freeman (Steven Ratazzi) runs down the the aisle and on to the stage with Sonia Onizesenko, the star of his prize winning documentary The Children of Moscow in tow. Sonia is actually a boy (Jase Blankfurt) and the title character who in the film is an amalgam of the three sisters in whose apartment he is a servant. The film has its genesis in Freeman's romance with the middle sister Katia (Marin Hinkle), a law school graduate who now works in a zoo (a metaphor for her and other Muscovites' lives?). When Freeman has made his acceptance speech and Sonia taken a shy bow, it's cut -- by way of pulling back a low shower style curtain -- and replaying the real events of the film

The corpse of the General's wife is on the bed that is front and center in the otherwise sparsely furnished apartment. The widower can't afford the exorbitant fee for carrying the body out of the apartment for burial so his neighbor Babushka (Suzanne Shephard) helps him. The oldest sister, Wiera (Jessica Hecht), has a married lover (Daniel Oreskes), an ambitious politician who hates Jews even thoughhe's half Jewish) and is gleeful about her pregnancy but only because it assuages his fears that he's sterile. The proud Wiera refuses his money for an abortion. Wiera's dilemma prompts the youngest sister, Tania (Alicia Goranson), to go to home base with Kostia or (Lee Pace), Babushka's handsome gangster son who has enough money to cover the cost of an abortion -- at least as long as he can elude the Mafia bosses who are after him to pay his mounting debt. The Mafia yet another example of a country desperately but ineffectively aping Western ways.

Goranson as the pop culture infatuated Tania who floats balloons in an effort to communicate with the mother she still desperately needs for advice, comes close to stealing the show. If she doesn't, its because Jessica Hecht and Marin Hinkle are formidable actors who are not easily upstaged. The play also benefits from a solid supporting cast which includes Lee Pace who as Lonia follows up on the promise of his Off'-Broadway debut in The Credeaux Canvas.

Lisa Peterson keeps a firm hand on things though she can't always avoid having the play get as messy as the society it depicts. Her best directorial touch is the between scenes music by a legless accordian player (Louis Tucci, who also doubles as an Afghan veteran). Positioned above and to the side of the stage, he is a combination fiddler on the roof and Nero making music while the world around him crumbles -- and yet another visible symbol of a country that has had its legs shot out from under it.

Glowacki, apparently sees little hope in the fact that despite escalating international tensions there has also been an increase in new democracies. Instead his Moscow is just the tip of the iceberg of social changes to cause one to feel depressed. Thus he ends his tragi-comedy by turning the phrase "and a little child shall lead them" on its head. I did tell you, didn't I, that this is a tragedy masquerading as a comedy?!


Written by Janusz Glowacki
Translate by Eve Nagorski and Janusz Glowacki
Directed by Lisa Peterson
Cast: Alicia Goranson, Jessica Hecht, Marin Hinkle, Bill Buell, Lee Pace, Suzanne Shepherd, Jase Blankfort, Daniel Oreskes, Steven Rattazzi, Louis Tucci
Set Design: Rachel Hauck
Costume Design: Mattie Ullrich
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams
Sound Design: Jill DuBoff
Original Music: Gina Leishman
Running time: 2 1/2 hours, includes one 15-minute intermission
Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St. (Park Av S./Irving Place), 212/353-3366
10/30/02; opening 11/21/02. No closing date given.
Tues-Fri at 8pm; Sat at 3 and 8pm; Sun at 3pm. -- $15 - $45
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 11/18 performance.
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