Overall the play appears to favour style over substance and pushes its grotesque aesthetic without taking as much care of the content.
The Prozorov sisters and their brother are stuck in a routine of preparing to leave their house and returning to it, which is curiously, albeit unsubtly, emphasised by their repeated putting on and taking off of coats, and by their neurotic laying of the table. Throughout their packing and dusting and readying the four siblings recite The Waste Land, for no apparent reason whatsoever.
This play by Andrew Tsao and Seattle-based The Basement Company is trying to do something – perhaps to explore the anguished conditions of humankind at the start of the twentieth century, or comment on the feelings of powerlessness and immobility shared in Chekhov’s and Eliot’s work. But the result is messy and overdrawn, one section of the poem reluctantly following the other and clumsily mixing singing, dancing, physical sequences and puppetry.
At first one could buy that the siblings are narrating the events of the poem to each other or using them as an excuse to play, such as in the endearing sequence of Madame Sosostris. But the device soon gets old and one is left to ponder why the characters are still going on. Few sections from Chekhov’s play are forcefully blended in with verses from the poem, but to an audience unfamiliar with either the play or the poem, those sections probably appear almost nonsensical. Understandably, the cast often seems ill at ease with the text, with the exception of Spencer Hamp, who masters T.S. Eliot’s lines with true conviction.
Overall the play appears to favour style over substance and pushes its grotesque aesthetic without taking as much care of the content. It might not be helped by the beautiful venue; The Waste Land Sisters could benefit from a darker stage, further away from the audience. Still, the concept at the basis of this show and its young cast – too young, perhaps, to be believable as the Prozorovs – have the potential to develop a more effective piece of theatre.