Review: World Premiere of “Kill The Debbie Downers! Kill Them! Kill Them! Kill Them Off!” by Shotgun Players (****)

by Charles Kruger

(from L to R) Erin Mei-Ling Stuart, Gabby Battista, and Sam Jackson are Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” as reimagined in “Kill the Debbie Downers! Kill Them! Kill Them! Kill Them Off!”, a devised theatre piece inspired by Chekov, directed by Mark Jackon & Beth Wilmurt.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

In this production, the words of Anton Chekhov are spoken, but what we see is certainly not his famous “Three Sisters,” but a creative exploration of that play’s themes and characters, rearranged into something new and strange and entrancing.

The original piece is notoriously depressing, full of sad melody, disappointment, and loss. The sisters are true “Debbie Downers.” They are also richly characterized and have been an opportunity to achieve greatness for generations of actresses. Nobody escapes a theatrical education without encountering this play. And all who wrangle with it surely ask, “Does this stuff REALLY have to be so damn depressing? Is that all there is?”

Well no. it doesn’t. And the point is delightfully made by directors Mark Jackson and Beth Wilmurt and their enthusiastic cast who have picked apart Chekhov and released the “Debbie Downers” from the prison of tradition.

Utilizing repetition, variation, dance, music, acrobatics, metaphorical set pieces and experimentation of all sort, the company has essentially cut up Chekhov’s script and themes and tossed the pieces into a kaleidoscope.

The company’s press release describes the work as “an original exploration of Chekhov’s lasting themes of memories fading, revolutions looming, and visions of the future beckoning.”

“For us,” they write, “this means using everything the theater has to offer—music, dance, design, acting, language, the audience, the given night’s performance—to get at questions about personal hopes around social change.”

In practice, this means a musical rendering of Chekhov, incorporating artists as diverse as The Red Army Choir, Steeleye Span, and (it seems inevitable) Frank Sinatra crooning “That’s LIfe.” Plus juggling, tumbling, joke-telling, and the demolition of the fourth wall.

It’s confusing, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun!

In summary, I really don’t know how to describe this event. But I know enough to give it my highest recommendation!

Go! Go! Go!

“Kill The Debbie Downers! Kill Them! Kill Them! Kill Them Off!” continues through April 21, 2019. For further information, click here.

Rating: ****(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

“Kill The Debbie Downers! Kill Them! Kill Them! Kill Them Off!”, a devised theatre piece directed by Mark Jackson & Beth Wilmurt from Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, translated by Paul Schmit. Produced by Shotgun Players. Costume Designer: Alice Ruiz. Set Designer: Mikiko Uesugi. Sara Witsch: Sound Designer. Roy Oppenheimer: Lighting Designer. 


Solyony: Nathaniel Andalis. Irina: Gabby Battista. Natasha: Amanda Farbstein. Olga: Sam Jackon. Masha: Erin Mei-Ling Stuart. Chebutyken: Billy Raphael.

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