Review: ‘The Value of Moscow’ by Dark Horse Theatre Company

I really enjoy going to Dark Horse Theatre Company productions because troupe founder Natasha Parnian takes every opportunity to bring the audience into the story. The Value of Moscow, written by Amy Dellagiarino and directed by Parnian, does not disappoint.

Jessie Burns (Rose), Andrew Farms (Cliff), and Sarah Akers (Emily) in 'The Value of Moscow.' Photo credit: Arianne' Warner.
Jessie Burns (Rose), Andrew Farms (Cliff), and Sarah Akers (Emily) in ‘The Value of Moscow.’ Photo credit: Arianne’ Warner.

When I walked into Artspace Herndon, I received my ticket–a set of two keys with an apartment number hand-written onto the keychain. The program is set up to mimic the formatting of a menu for a pizza joint (Dark Horse ‘Za). The stage was set up with several moving boxes and very little else–it perfectly evoked the feeling of a new apartment.

The play begins with three sisters, Emily (Sarah Akers), Rose (Jessie Burns), and Clara (Catherine Gilbert) moving into their new apartment. The three couldn’t be any more different. Emily is a published author who asserts that she is only going to live with her sisters for a couple of weeks while her husband gets some space. Clara is the youngest sister, full of anger and sadness. The bandages on her wrists speak volumes. Rose tries her best to keep the peace between her two very mercurial sisters, all while dealing with her own life crisis. The action really picks up when Cliff (Andrew Farms) delivers a pizza, inadvertently sending the sisters into chaos. Later, Jimbo (Ricardo Padilla) arrives and things escalate even further.

Emily is my favorite sister because of Akers’ portrayal. Akers plays Emily as brusque and imposing. Even wearing a hilariously awful dress overtop of her sweatshirt, while talking about her marriage falling apart, Akers never feels pathetic onstage. She is fierce, but Akers ensures that Emily never feels flat.

Burns makes her acting debut as Rose, but you wouldn’t know it from her performance. Her strong improv and comedy background give Burns amazing stage presence, even when the action turns more tragic. Burns brings lots of levity to Rose, and her over-the-top, borderline cringey flirting scene is worth the price of admission all on its own.

The most realistic and personal performance comes from Gilbert. Gilbert gives Clara depth and ensures that the pathos never seems forced. While very emotional, she is careful to make sure that Clara never becomes a caricature of depression. Gilbert also serves as fight captain, working with fight choreographer Scott Pafumi to bring some incredibly shocking fights to life in wholly unexpected ways.

Catherine Gilbert (Clara), Sarah Akers (Emily), and Jessie Burns (Rose) in 'The Value of Moscow.' Photo credit: Arianne' Warner.
Catherine Gilbert (Clara), Sarah Akers (Emily), and Jessie Burns (Rose) in ‘The Value of Moscow.’ Photo credit: Arianne’ Warner.

In a play about strong women, the play’s two men, Farms and Padilla, act as catalysts for some of the best moments in the show. Another newcomer to the stage, Farms plays Cliff as sincere and a little goofy. Farms gives a very dynamic performance and has excellent (and often hilarious) physicality. Padilla plays Jimbo full of rage but brings nuance to a role that many may be tempted to play as strictly antagonistic. The lightness and humor Padilla brings to Jimbo really add to the performance as a whole.

Dark Horse Theatre Company’s The Value of Moscow is pretty much my definition of a great production–it’s a dark comedy with truly poignant moments and a strong cast, staged thoughtfully with good pacing.

While it has closed in Herndon, there are still two performances at Grace in The Plains. that I’d recommend getting your tickets as soon as possible because seating is limited.

Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.

The Value of Moscow played through April 27, 2019, at Artspace Herndon, and plays May 3-4 at Grace The Plains located at 6507 Main Street in The Plains, VA. Tickets are available at the door or online.