Encore Michigan

Slipstream’s ‘Lost in 3 Pines’ takes patrons on a theatrical adventure

Review July 28, 2018 Patrice Nolan

FERNDALE, Mich. – Slipstream Theatre Initiative is back with a world premiere of the second play by Maxim Vinogradov, Lost in 3 Pines. Having won every imaginable award with his first play, A Night of Stars with Tennessee Williams, (coming soon to Theatre Nova in Ann Arbor) everyone in the theatre scene was eager to see what Vinogradov would do next, at the ripe old age of 20.

One thing the plays have in common is that both were awarded the Hopgood Award for Drama – U of M’s prestigious writing scholarship. Also, the dialog is inherently funny. Further comparison between the two plays is a bit pointless, as Lost in 3 Pines is experimental, abstract and unlike anything else.

The play opens as five characters stand with their backs to the wall, each trapped in their own box of light. They stare at the audience, even when speaking to each other, so that there is no real connection. Tiaja Sabrie stars as Lyuba, a young woman who has lost touch with reality – or who has been abandoned by any form of reality we would recognize. She thinks she’s prepared dinner, but has no idea what’s in the oven. She begins to suspect that SHE is in the oven, along with the other characters who people her existence and define who she is. The cheerful way in which she interacts with them – like a ‘50s TV housewife on Valium, with no control over her own life – is hilarious. And we quickly realize that as adrift as she is in this altered reality, she is still more “real” than those around her.

Brenton Herwat plays Lyuba’s neurotic husband, Misha, whose purpose is to suck up to his advertising boss, a self-obsessed windbag named Volkov. Volkov is played by Ryan Ernst, who embraces his role as the patronizing authority figure who gets everyone’s names wrong with gleeful inconsistency. Mandy Logsdon is Mourka, his eager-to-please Stepford wife. Linda Rabin Hammell is Baba, Lyuba’s addled mother-in-law who perpetually asks for help in finding her pills – which are always in the other cabinet. Lyuba worries that she is becoming Baba – or may already be Baba. Lyuba is drawn to Zhenka, an exchange student who seems to have plenty of answers. Fordham University student David Wilson plays Zhenka, who asks Lyuba the question that drives the rest of the play: “What do you do?” She doesn’t understand the question, but when it’s revealed that it has something to do with what makes her unique, she embarks on a quest.

The play evolves through a series of abstract scenarios that lean into a variety of theatrical genres and pop-culture mythologies. As Lyuba tries on different realities, she experimentally learns the rules for controlling what happens – noticing that the lights blink and change color when she exerts her growing powers. It’s very much like Alice in Wonderland – if Picasso were in charge of production design and continuity.

The versatile cast members carry their characters through each of these different scenarios, even though they have been redefined by the prevailing rules of that reality. Lyuba encounters an effusive Parisian Mademoiselle (Mourka/Logsdon) and is reunited with Misha/Herwat in the form of a forlorn, inconsolable Texan who asks forgiveness for their failing relationship. Volkov/Ernst enters as a cartoonish Italian detective intent on finding the body for a murder that hasn’t happened. Lyuba meets Zhenka/Wilson as a tree fairy who gifts her with a book that contains “her stories.” She ends up in a fantasy in which she is the lost Russian Princess Anastasia and the three men are her royal bitches – Misha/Herwat as her Sex Monkey, Volkov/Ernst as her reconfigurable settee, and Zhenka/Wilson as her storyteller. She knows there must be something more, and asks the blinking lights (the only constant on her journey) to reveal themselves or release her.

For the final act, Baba/Hammell appears as a waitress who leads the audience into the lobby. It has been transformed into a new age diner where the menus are books and where people apparently find what nourishment they need in those books. The windows are filled with sparkling fairy lights that are draped on the pine trees beyond. Lyuba is the chef who can concoct any exotic food – even zebra tongue – from a handful of ingredients she keeps in the kitchen. She seems to have fulfilled her destiny, and the cast members appear to be fully realized characters who continue to seek answers to life’s big mysteries.

Slipstream Artistic Director Bailey Boudreau directs, with assistant direction by Grace Trivax. Boudreau also designs the costumes, which cleverly introduce the three women in different versions of the same dress, and get crazier as the play spins into more fantastical realms. Technical Director Ryan Ernst orchestrated the scenic transformation of the lobby for the final act.

Clearly, this play raises more questions than it answers – by design. It is funny. It is entertaining. It is an ideal platform for inventive, versatile performers. And it is puzzling in its oblique approach to “a message” – which is a good thing if you embrace the challenge of wrangling with uncertainty. The ending (a new beginning for our heroine) is most satisfying. If you’re ready for a theatrical adventure, this is a great place to start.

Click here for show days, times and details.


Read more about Lost in 3 Pines 7/20 – 8/5/18

Read more about Slipstream Theatre Initiative

Week of 3/20/2023

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