Hungry River brings Chekov to IWV

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

For those who complain that Ridgecrest doesn’t offer cultural events, get thee to the next performance of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” now playing at the Hungry River Theatre at the Old Batting Cages, 215 W. Ridgecrest Blvd.

Performance dates are Nov. 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, and 17. Performances on all dates begin at 7 p.m., Un addition, on Nov. 10 and 17, matinee performances will start at 2p.m. Tickets are $10 and available at the door, at Red Rock Books, and online at www.hungryriver.org.

While I have read a great many plays, none of Chekov’s were among them, so I went into the theater with an open mind. I found “Three Sisters” to be subtly crafted, with the message in the subtext.

This play was written in 1900, a comedy of the times. Ably played by the Hungry River team, this is an ensemble piece. I was particularly impressed with all the strong characters that came through clearly.

Since the team has seven actors and one director, and the play has 14 characters, the team faced challenges right off. The most minor character was simply left out, and multiple roles were assigned to all but two of the actors.

Then the issue became resolving the quick changes. Again, the challenge was met by greatly simplifying the costumes, playing the piece in more-or-less modern dress.

The set is a wonderfully simple, minimalist construction. The play is presented in proscenium theater style, with the backstage and wing areas hung with simple white sheets to represent walls.

The actors proved adept at delineating their various roles primarily through acting, rather than relying much on costumes. Part of the fun lies in Director Samuel Hunter’s decision to cast several women as soldiers, and one man as a woman. This stretches each actor’s talents.

One of my favorite bits was Giovanni Velasco playing two different men and then doing a quick change and coming back as the 81-year-old nurse, Anfisa.

“I specifically cast him in that part because I thought it would be funny, and it worked,” said Hunter. The gray wig that kept going crooked added a certain charm, but it was the argyle socks and men’s shoes under the tottering elderly lady’s skirts that really tickled me.

Overall, the play was lighthearted and serious by turns. Themes of youthful idealism, pervasive boredom and finally loss of dreams through nonaction coiled through the play like wisps of smoke.

The Russian feel of the times was reinforced by characters having philosophical discussions. The three sisters presented a strong, believable bond between them, as they coped with a sense of life passing them by. Lively performances by all the cast led to sparking moments when I felt swept into their world.

After each performance, the players hold a talk-back session, where the audience can ask questions and discuss the performance. I have found this to be fun and worth staying for.

At the opening night talk-back, Justin O’Neill said that the group chose this play “because of demographics. It takes place in a small town in a rural area, with a military presence, like Ridgecrest. But after that, we didn’t draw any further comparisons, we just did the play.”

“There’s a difference between the people who are just waiting for something to happen and the people who are living in the moment,” said Hannah Larson. This is Hungry River’s last play in this area. The group will be moving on to another community within the coming months but promised to return to Ridgecrest occasionally and to keep in touch. Previous productions were “Hamlet” and “The Heart of Dogland,” an original work.

For information about Hungry River, see www.hungryriver.org.

Story First Published: 2012-11-07