What If They Went to Moscow? Takes an Interplay of Images at REDCAT

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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The innovative Brazilian artist Christiane Jatahy’s examination of the relationship between mediated and unmediated images unfolded at REDCAT recently, carrying on a conversation between theatre and cinema that has continued to unfold for over 100 years. Depending on what order an audience member saw the short pieces based on Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, one came away with a different viewpoint.

I first attended the theatrical treatment of the play, adapted and performed in Portuguese with a smattering of English here and there. The relationship between the three women – Isabel Teixeira (Olga), Julia Bernat (Irena), and Stella Rabello (Maria) – showed an intensity that can only occur in close collaboration. They prowled the stage, either handling or performing in terms of the camera; all done while the walls moved in and out to accommodate shooting. The result was both balletic and mesmerizing.

With Paulo Camacho on the live camera, the women moved effortlessly as they took turns submerging in a crystalline water tank, passing out orange juice, champagne, and cake to the audience in its role as party guests, who, incidentally, also joined in by dancing onstage. One left this performance satiated from the plethora of constantly evolving images shown in simultaneous performance and video production.

Seeing the cinema result, however simultaneous, eliminated the immediacy of Jatahey’s concept.  We had a clearer understanding of the trajectory of the movie/play itself, but the closeness between sisters that one felt in live performance was separated and differentiated out.  In particular, Maria’s affair with Vershinin (played and filmed by Camacho)  – the staged version ends with a fairly graphic depiction of their sex –  on-screen became muddied and abstract.  Jatahy meant for each of three cameras to relate to different sisters.  While the live presentation gave her concept clarity, each differentiated POVs were not evident in the mediated result.

On-screen, the central questions of Chekhov’s original work seemed more muted, as well. His was one of the first realistic, almost documentary, depictions of the ennui of provincial life; contrasting the dream of living in the big city (Moscow) with the reality of provincial life in microscopic detail. I appreciated it, though, when the sisters substituted “Buenos Aires,” for Moscow, since the latter seems far-fetched when delivered in Portuguese.

In Jatahey’s adaptation, that dream is submitted in another way, framed as “What can we do to change?” The refrain is voiced at the beginning and the end of both live and video performances. But there is no movement and there doesn’t seem to be an answer.  It reminds me of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, written almost 50 years after Chekhov: “Shall we go?” asks Vladimer. To which Estragon replies, “Yes, let’s go.” But, they do not move.

Although all the attention went to the three women portraying the sisters, What if They Went to Moscow? Jatahey’s project was made possible only by the technicians, including Camacho on camera, who managed the technical equipment as well as a great number of scene changers and properties handlers.  The entire production was conducted – superbly – as an intricate dance, a wonderful exercise that clarifies the differences in live vs. filmic perception.

What if they Went to Moscow? performed February 21 through  24th at REDCAT, located beneath Walt Disney Hall, corner of First Street and Grand, Los Angeles 90012.  Consult www.redcat.org for more information about their Spring Season of diverse offerings in theatre, cinema and dance.