Monday, May 25, 2020

Sister Act: ERA revives its inventive "Moscow!" as a webinar

Lucy Cashion, the Artistic Director of ERA Theater, has pretty firmly established herself as the expert in pouring old theatrical wine into new bottles.

The Zoom cast of Moscow!
Her Trash Macbeth in 2016, for example, threw Shakespeare's tragedy into the blender with some Emily Post, Dr. Spock, Sun-Tzu, and 1950s-era commercials, and the result was what Steve Callahan, writing for KDHX called "a strange and compelling piece." Oedipus Apparatus, her radical rewrite of Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus, was a wildly inventive and wholly original potpourri combining the general outline of the Oedipus legend with classical Newtonian mechanics, plane geometry, Freudian psychology, and contemporary pop culture. It also cleverly used the architecture of West End Players' basement black box as an integral element of the set.

Back before either of those, though, there was ERA's remarkable Moscow!, created for the 2015 St. Lou Fringe Festival. Described as a drinking-game version of Chekov's Three Sisters, the script was an ingenious one-hour reduction of the original, with everyone in the cast (and much of the audience) taking a drink whenever anyone said "Moscow." Which, if you know your Chekov, happens a lot.

That production moved at light speed, with actors rattling off vast chunks of Chekov with machine-gun precision while marching about the stage in precise steps through the box-like maze of red chairs that served as a set. Combined with original music director Joe Taylor's live performance of Russian classics (mostly Prokofiev and Khachaturian, as I recall), it all added up to an impressive combination of parody and homage.

Moscow! at the 2015 STL Fringe
ERA had planned to mount a new production of Moscow! at the Centene Center this month, complete with custom cocktails (Moscow Mules, of course!) for the audience. The pandemic took care of that idea, but Cashion and her ERA colleagues decided to perform it live anyway--just not in an actual theatre and not in person.

Live performances of ERA's Moscow! began last weekend and continue this Thursday through Saturday (May 28-30) at 8 pm in the comfort of your own home via the Zoom videoconferencing platform. With everyone including Music Director Joe Taylor performing from their own homes, this online version lacks some of the immediacy of that Fringe original, but on the whole Ms. Cashion and her talented cast have done a remarkable job of repurposing Moscow!. As my KDHX colleague Tina Farmer noted, the production had the feel of all taking place in the same room, despite the physical separation of the performers.

As with the live original, the new version includes a pre-show in which some of the characters speak directly to the audience. In 2015 they did it while wandering the theatre lobby. Here, they're on your screen around 10 minutes before the 8 pm start time, so you'll want to show up a bit early to get the full experience.

Moscow! at the 2015 STL Fringe
Said experience retains the fast pace and sense of fun that distinguished the original. The cast does outstanding work, despite the inherent awkwardness of the format. Ellie Schwetye, Rachel Tibbets, and Alicen Moser shine as the three Prozorova sisters, perfectly delineating their radically different personas, and they're supported by an impressive ensemble of local actors who all thoroughly inhabit their roles. Congratulations to all for a difficult and challenging job well done.

Recognizing the limitations of the format, ERA is not charging for tickets, but because the virtual "house" is limited by the Zoom app to 100 people, including the cast, you will need to reserve a slot on line at While you're there, seriously consider making a donation to ERA. Times are tough for performing arts organizations right now, and if everybody helps a little, it can go a long way.

Which, now that I think of it, is not a bad paradigm for how we can defeat COVID-19.

Performances of Moscow! are Thursday through Saturday (May 28-30) at 8 pm. Download the free Zoom app, whip up a pitcher of Moscow Mules, and join in the fun. Take small sips, though. There's a lot of "Moscow" in Moscow!

No comments: