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Review: Barbs fly among sisters in 'The Value of Moscow,' a modern-day riff on Chekhov

Review: Barbs fly among sisters in 'The Value of Moscow,' a modern-day riff on Chekhov
Andres Paul Ramacho, Madeleine Heil, center, and Julie Bersani in the play "The Value of Moscow." (Sacred Fools)

Thanksgiving inevitably invites appreciation for the warm fuzzies that nurture family bonds. For some, it might be a lovingly prepared holiday feast; for others, their adorable kitten photos posted on Facebook.

But for the trio of estranged sisters at the center of “The Value of Moscow,” Amy Dellagiarno’s new black comedy from Sacred Fools, the ties that bind turn out to be less sugar-frosted: an attempted suicide, an imploding marriage and perhaps a homicide or two.

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Each of the squabbling siblings has a different reason for moving into their seedy new shared apartment, but they have one thing in common: none of them wants to be there. The oldest — 30something Emily (Tiffany Cole, substituting for Devin Sidell) — is a mediocre writer whose current fiction is that her husband “just needs space.” The youngest, pouty suicidal rebel Clara (Julie Bersani), proclaims their new digs make her want to kill herself, to which Emily retorts, “Yeah, but you already want to kill yourself, so that opinion doesn’t mean anything.” It’s left to the middle sister, perky peacemaker Rose (Madeleine Heil), to try to smooth over the three sisters’ perpetually ruffled feathers.

With hilarious deadly accuracy, playwright Dellagiarno’s snappy dialogue captures the kind of put-downs and barbed comebacks only siblings who know one another all too well can use to pick at one another’s psychic scabs.

Naturally, long-concealed painful truths get unpacked along with personal possessions. If the setup seems formulaic at first, Dellagiarno quickly steers things into unexpected surreal territory with the respective entrances and exits of a sad-sack middle-age pizza delivery man (Ryan Gowland, substituting for Gregory Guy Gordon) and Carla’s hot-tempered ex-boyfriend (Andres Paul Ramacho).

A self-aware reference links the siblings’ plight to the unfulfilled Moscow dreams of “The Three Sisters” (hence the play’s title), with even more on-the-nose adherence to Chekhov’s rule that a gun introduced in one act must be fired in the second.

Carrie Keranen’s staging honors the playwright’s intended accelerated pacing, a key factor in plunging us into the story’s rapidly unraveling events; however, at times, the artificially hurried delivery comes at the expense of the marvelously witty, literate banter.

Nevertheless, with its quirky mix of realistic family dynamics and absurdist humor, “The Value of Moscow” offers terrific value in keeping with the Sacred Fools mission to present new works at rock-bottom prices.

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‘The Value of Moscow’

Where: The Broadwater Second Stage, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 8

Price: $15

Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

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