By Anton Chekhov
Adapted by Craig Lucas
Directed by Charlie Sexton
Reviewed by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2014, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The plays of Anton Chekhov were some of the first I ever read, and they remain among my favorites, but it has been a long time since I have seen one onstage. They are among the finest explorations of the tenuous line dividing comedy and tragedy, but are, unfortunately, too often seen as wholly serious and produced that way.
Three Sisters is regarded as one of Chekhov’s greatest works, and it exemplifies that unique balance with an undeniably tragic scenario that is shot through with comedy that is a tad absurdist. Perhaps it is a natural reaction to embrace the cliché of 20th century Russian pessimism, and it must also be recognized that much of the humor is subtle and is likely to provoke a smile of recognition rather than a belly laugh, but it can be a challenge to accept the story of the dissolution of one family’s happiness (and thus the Russian aristocracy) as comedy. Chekhov’s characters certainly do suffer greatly, and there is no happy ending to be found.
Olga, Mash, and Irina, and their brother Andrey, left their beloved Moscow many years ago to live in the provinces with the kindly old doctor Chebutykin. The eldest, Olga (Abby Ferree), is a spinster schoolteacher (at the age of 28!), Masha (Emma Pfitzer Price) is married to a mundane but kindly gentleman, Kuligyn (Daniel Candee), but loves Vershinin, a military officer with a family (Ciaran Brown). Irina (Frances Rippy) also will make a commitment to man she does not love, while Andrey (Field Oldham) enters into a misbegotten marriage with Natasha (Anne Shook), who moves from awkwardness to authoritarian control of the family’s household, perhaps the only character who gets what they want.
Director Charlie Sexton’s first act rushes a bit through the playwright’s slightly over-plotted introductory exposition, missing some of the nuance, but hits its mark beautifully after intermission. Such a shift in pace could be just opening night jitters. He is fortunate to have strong work from the young actresses playing the siblings of the title, and, in point of fact, the distaff side of the ensemble were consistently effective in their character work, finding greater naturalism and detail in Chekhov’s women. He always wrote interesting women. That the fellows overall don’t make quite the same impact is unfortunate, although Ciaran Brown’s Vershinin stands out with a commanding but understated authority, and, as Tusenbach, Will DeVary shared some tender moments in his farewell scenes with Frances Rippy’s Irina.
Evan Prizant’s costumes were well-judged, except for a couple of instances of male wardrobe seeming too modern, and the nifty black military uniforms were striking and suggestive of both period and culture, even if the cool-looking but over-size boots kept nagging at me. His work for the women was spot on, curiously reinforcing their dominance in this production. Alec Volz and Clay Marshall’s stark and chilly backdrop of bare, wintry trees set a specific emotional tone that seems appropriate to the sense of loss in the play, but perhaps serves to undercut the comedy
Whatever the reservations, this Three Sisters is a solid interpretation and a showcase for a worthwhile set of performances by a group of impressive young women. And as if the rare pleasure of seeing Chekhov onstage at Walden once this season wasn’t treat enough, a faculty production of Uncle Vanya is due on the same stage in December.
October 9-12, 2014
The Nancy Niles Sexton Theatre
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40204
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com