The Quick-Change Room
Scenes from the Revolution
By Nagle Jackson
Illustration by CAP Design

February 12 - 14 at 8 PM
February 15 at 2 PM
Mendelssohn Theatre

newsletter | press release | program | photographs

From our Newsletter
It Doesn't Seem Like the Perfect Backdrop for a Comedy, but ...

Mikhail Gorbachev's call for perestroika ("restructuring") in December 1984 became the catalyst for a significant number of "quick changes" globally. Gorbachev asserted that the Soviet Union's economic and social systems could not continue without far-reaching reforms. While it may have seemed natural that he would follow up on his beliefs, the world was still taken by surprise when he assumed his seat as the general secretary of the communist party and embraced a market economy for the country. Gorbachev's decision ultimately led to the dissolution of the orthodox Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist totalitarianism that had governed the country for nearly 75 years.

But this was just the first domino to fall. In the months that followed, Western eyes watched in awe as Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan, democratic governments overturned communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Germany was reunited, the Warsaw Pact withered away, and the Cold War came to an abrupt end.

But back in Russia reaction to these new policies were mixed. In many people's eyes perestroika upset the foundations of the country. Power bases were dismantled but not replaced entirely. Newfound freedoms of assembly, speech, and religion, as well as the right to strike, and hold multi-candidate elections undermined the authoritarian regime, but they also upset the familiar sense of order and predictability that the country had known. Long-suppressed, bitter inter-ethnic, economic, and social grievances led to clashes, strikes, and growing crime rates.

Sounds like the perfect backdrop for a comedy, right?

Indeed, this is the thought-provoking setting for Nagle Jackson's wry comedy "The Quick-Change Room," a play which shows how perestroika was both a blessing and a curse on the international stage ... and on some smaller stages as well.

Set in 1991 at St. Petersburg's Kuzlov Theater, the play portrays the goings-on in the theater's quick-change room. The quick-change room is a small dressing room just off of the stage where actors go to get help during fast costume changes; but in the play it is also a microcosm of the new Russia.

The story unfolds as Nina, the ingenue and the daughter of the wardrobe mistress, is newly cast as the youngest sister in a revival of Chekhov's "The Three Sisters." As rehearsals get underway, the Soviet government topples and the theater company is forced to learn the rules of commercialism in order to survive.

This proves to be no small challenge. During the country's czarist and communist years the fine arts were highly subsidized. Under the new system, though, this support is gone, as are the inexpensive tickets that once drew audiences to the theater. The reality for theaters is that they are either forced to abandon their principles or perish; the classic repertory of the theater, it seems, must give way to the trendy and commercialized westernized tradition.

This reality throws the characters of "The Quick-Change Room" into a panic as they struggle to find their place in the new order. Nina must protect her rising star from being felled by aging actress Ludmilla Nevchenka. Meanwhile, Nina's romantic interest, Sasha, a young electrician, becomes disgruntled over the seeming chaos that perestroika has wrought on financially strapped Russia. Also up in arms is Artistic Director Sergey Sergeyevich, who is convinced that his artistry is being bulldozed by commercialism and the ambition of others. And, in truth, they are.

The cautionary aspect of the comedy is exemplified by the character Boris, a natural entrepreneur whose role in the play is encapsulated in his terrific line "We don't need great men; we need clever men." Boris represents the triumph of the bureaucrat in any regime. From his original post in the ticket office, Boris uses his natural ability to barter Nike shoes and "Hustler" magazines to acquire needed supplies like costumes and wigs, to gradually take control of the theater and the show. Through his guidance, Chekhov's masterpiece becomes a gaudy Western musical spin-off, less one sibling, dubbed "Oh, My Sister."

"The Quick-Change Room" is part farce, part allegory. It's "The Producers" meets glasnost. Creative and wise, this is a witty comedy with a finale that is both poignant and hilarious.
- Joel Aalberts

Press Release

ANN ARBOR - The University of Michigan Department of Theatre and Drama presents Nagle Jackson's backstage comedy, "The Quick-Change Room: Scenes from a Revolution, February 12-14 at 8PM and February 15 at 2PM at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre in Ann Arbor. A powerful and hilarious comedy of the struggle between artistic integrity and commercial viability during the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the play will be directed by UM Professor Philip Kerr. "The Quick-Change Room" is the final stage presentation of UM's "Celebrating St. Petersburg" festival, a University-wide festival commemorating the 300th anniversary of a city that has been extraordinarily influential on Western culture.

Playwright and director Nagle Jackson was invited in the spring of 1986 to direct a production at the Bolshoi Dramatichny Teater of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), known as the Gorky, the first private cultural exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States. It was one of the first cultural fissures in what would become the earthquake called "perestroika." Jackson based "The Quick-Change Room" on his experiences in Russia. According to Jackson, "The play is a tribute and a gesture of great love to the wonderful Russian artists with whom I was privileged to work. It was a fascinating time to be in Russia; heady optimism was in the air. But a cynical side of my nature kept asking: "Do they know what they're getting into?" "The Quick-Change Room" is a humorous look at the political changes in Russia coupled with a poignant concern at what these changes will mean to the previously government-subsidized arts.

The former artistic director of the Milwaukee Repertory and McCarter Theatres, Jackson was the first American to garner an Onassis Foundation International Playwriting Award, presented to him by the President of Greece in Athens for his play, "The Elevation of Thieve"s in 1997. Other plays by Jackson include "Taking Leave," "At This Evening's Performance," and "A Hotel on Marvin Gardens." A graduate of Yale University, he holds an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Whitman College.

The story is set in the state-run Kuzlov Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. In the waning days of the Soviet communist regime, the theatre is having hard times - its audience is shrinking, the leading lady is past her prime, and they don't even have soap. But a new production of "The Three Sisters" will surely turn things around. As the theatre and its denizens cope with the changes brought about by perestroika, even Chekhov's masterpiece isn't safe from the ravages of capitalism as it becomes an American style musical titled "O My Sister!" The quick-change room of the Kuzlov, the small backstage room where dressers provide the fast costume changes necessary during a play's action, serves as a microcosm for the "quick changes" in the economic, moral and philosophical systems of Russia brought about by the downfall of communism.

Director Philip Kerr, the Claribel Baird Halstead Professor in the Department of Theatre and Drama, last directed "Hamlet" at UM. Joining Kerr on the artistic team is scenic and lighting designer Gary Decker, Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre and Drama, who recently designed the set for The Diary of a Scoundrel and designed both sets and lights for "A Streetcar Named Desire" in February 2003. Costume designer Sheila McClear is a senior BFA design and production student in the Department of Theatre and Drama. Christopher Konovaliv, sound designer, is a media consultant with the UM Media Union. "The Quick-Change Room" marks Ms. McClear and Mr. Konavaliv's first designs for University Productions.

Ticket prices are $20 and $15 reserved seating with students only $8 with ID. Tickets are available in person at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League. The Ticket Office is open from 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday and 10am-1pm on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted. Tickets may also be ordered online at The Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre is located within the Michigan League, 911 N. University Avenue, at the corner of Fletcher Street and N. University in Ann Arbor. The theatre is handicapped accessible and equipped with an infrared listening system for hearing enhancement.
- Kerianne M. Tupac

Click here to view The Quick-Change Room program as a PDF file

Production Photographs

Kellie Matteson as Svetlana JoAnna Spanos as Nina

Adam H. Caplan as Sergey Sergeyvich Tarpin Erin Farrell as Marya Stepanova

Erin Farrell, Anika Habermas-Scher as Ludmilla, Elizabeth Hoyt as Lena Brian Luskey as Boris, Kellie Matteson, Allison Brown as Tatyana

Erin Farrell, J. Theo Klose as Sasha, JoAnna Spanos Adam H. Caplan, Anika Habermas-Scher

Elizabeth Hoyt The Orchestra

J. Theo Klose JoAnna Spanos

Sari Goldberg as Vera Meghan Powe as Anna

Brad Fraizer as Nikolai, Erin Farrell Rehearsal for The Three Sisters

Brian Luskey Anika Habermas-Scher, Erin Farrell, Elizabeth Hoyt

Meghan Powe, JoAnna Spanos Finale of O My Sister!