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Revolutions of the Mind: Three Sisters and Mistakes Were Made

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As everyone is glued to media, watching a real-life revolution disrupt and otherwise transform Egypt, revolutions of a quieter, less violent but powerful sort erupt off-Broadway in two plays in limited run that I would not miss.

Chekhov is surely the poet of thwarted dreams, of aristocratic manners mutating to modernity. As staged at Classic Stage Company, with a text adapted by Paul Schmidt, and ably directed by Austin Pendleton, Three Sisters, with a dazzling ensemble of actors, invites you to a sumptuous spread: fine china, crystal goblets, white linens on a gigantic table suggest an opulent feast for many guests. But be ware that table, a contrivance (the sets are by Walter Spangler) that turns into the house's upstairs bedrooms. Hoisted aside by play's end, the wooden platform suggests a guillotine, all promise of hope, old world finery, and intellect, cut.

Olga (Jessica Hecht), Masha (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and Irina (Juliet Rylance), the sisters of the title are situated in the countryside longing to be in Moscow. Their boredom is interrupted by the presence of the military, which for each sister presents, at least temporarily, a way out. Peter Sarsgaard plays Verushnin. Masha, married to someone older and more dull than wise, hopes to leave with him. The youngest, Irina, will settle for marriage with Baron Tuzenbach (a well-cast dreamy Ebon Moss-Bachrach), while Olga follows her path as an unmarried teacher. Their brother Andrey (Josh Hamilton) marries a vulgar village girl Natasha (a spirited Marin Ireland) who dresses garishly and systematically forces the sisters out of the homestead -but alas, not to the Moscow of their dreams. And that promise of a sumptuous feast -well, nourishing soup and warming glasses of tea are served to brooding souls enlivened up by the most crass among them: Natasha and Solyony (a very fine Anson Mount) destroy the order irrevocably, as small town life flows on.

If you were watching last week's SAG awards, you may have noticed too, that when the Best Ensemble award was presented to the Boardwalk Empire group, a dozen or so New York actors stormed the stage but the actor playing Special Agent Nelson Van Alden was missing: Michael Shannon was back east playing a theater producer, Felix Artifex, in Craig Wright's masterfully written almost one-man tour de force called Mistakes Were Made. Shannon's Artifex, a theater producer, juggles buttons on the telephone making conversation with an array of characters as he attempts to make a play set in the French Revolution called "Mistakes Were Made." His secretary (Mierka Girten) -we see her shadow behind a scrim-announces: "Johnny Bledsoe on line 1," "Dolores (the ex-wife) on line 2," as he bellows, argues, playing unseen, unheard characters off one another. Onstage, he speaks to Denise, a large gold fish in a tank (puppeteer Sam Deutsch) who appears to grimace at the audience. Being a New York type, Artifex deploys an arsenal of ironic, gnomic, one-liners: "Life is an opportunity to make things happen," "What is more important than maintaining one's enthusiasm?" "Thank you for being you," he bullshits. But here's where the totally contemporary language melds eerily with current events. Trying to get the big star Johnny Bledsoe interested in the project, he suggests a rewrite to the play's author: How about adding a young girl dying on the ground, blood gushing, saying to her heroic brother, Even if I die, the revolution would be worth it.

Cross posted at Gossip Central.