As you descend the creaky stairs into the depths of the Yale Cabaret, you are unavoidably overwhelmed with brown. The floor, the walls, the table, the chairs — all devoid of color, all brown. The walls are papered in drawings of manatees and mermaids and math problems. All created with demure earth tones. But just as the monotony of the stage sets in, a tweed-attired mouse strikes up a lively tune on his piano, and it becomes clear that “The Three Sisters, or The Dormouse’s Tale” will be anything but boring.
Directed by Chris Mirto DRA ’10, and cowritten by Mirto and Brian Valencia DRA ’10, the quirky musical masterpiece is loosely based on “The Three Sisters,” by Anton Chekhov, and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” by Lewis Carroll. The play follows three sisters who live at the bottom of a treacle-floored well. Unable to stand the sight of his daughters after the death of his wife (“We have her eyes, ears, nose, elbows,” the actresses croon), their father left them in the well 11 years ago. But amid the campy ’40s-esque humor and amusing songs, the whimsical play also serves as a cautionary tale of inaction and unfulfilled dreams.
Narrated by a charming piano-playing dormouse (portrayed by Valencia, who also composed the music and wrote the lyrics for the performance), the musical soon reveals that the girls are unsatisfied with their monotonous lives in the well. Olga, the schoolmarmish elder sister played by Adria Vitlar DRA ’09, is beginning to feel her life pass her by. As she sings “life in a well’s not life,” the oldest girl longs for a relationship — and in a musical number about alter egos, she has a hilarious turn as a Russian sex machine named Natasha, lifting her long modest skirt to reveal a leather garter. Rachel Spencer DRA ’10 shines as the middle sister, charismatic Masha, a high-energy jokester. “You must be dead tired!” she exclaims to a deceased seagull that falls into the girls’ well/living room during a song in which she plays both herself and the lifeless bird. Irina, the youngest sister, is played by Aja Naomi King DRA ’10. As a youthful girl who wishes she could be the Queen of Hearts, King excellently captures the essence of the sheltered teenager.
Mirto and Valencia seamlessly infuse the ingenious works of Chekhov and Carroll into the musical. Like the characters in “The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party,” the three sisters are privy to the “curse of the ‘m.’” The clever dormouse explains how they spend their days drawing, but no matter what they intend to create, the pictures always end up starting with the letter ‘m.’ While the “Alice in Wonderland” elements certainly add heart to the story, the Chekhovian influences add the depth. Like the three sisters in the original play, Olga, Masha and Irina yearn to return home. In a standout moment of the musical, King demonstrates her enormous voice as the youngest sister pleads for escape from the dull brown of the well. “Teach me to live! Teach me to love!” she bellows, and the play moves into the profound. Yet the dormouse soon reveals that while Irina thinks these ideas she does not speak them. As the play closes, the three sisters are exactly where they started: discontent in their treacle well, but unwilling to change. The lights slowly fade over the stage with the dormouse reminding the audience that the girls “ended their day no better than they began. They almost learned something. Again.”
“The Three Sisters, or The Dormouse’s Tale” is the third collaboration for Mirto and Valencia, and the pair’s first original project. The fanciful musical comedy is a fantastic debut for the two students. It will run Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.