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'Three Sisters' is Classic Chekhov

Three Sisters

From a play by Anton Chekhov; adapted by Krystian Lupa; based on a translation by Paul Schmidt; directed by Krystian Lupa; set design by Krystian Lupa; costume design by Piotr Skiba; lighting design by Scott Zielinski; sound design by David Remedios; original music by Jacek Ostaszewski; video design by Zbyszek Bzymek; assistant directed by Marcin Wierzchowski



Andrei Prozorov, Sean Dugan

Olga, Kelly McAndrews

Masha, Molly Ward

Irina, Sarah Grace Wilson

Natasha, Julienne Hanzelka Kim

Kulygin, Will LeBow

Vershinin, Frank Wood

Baron Tuzenbach, Jeff Biehl

Solyony, Chris McKinney

Chebutykin, Thomas Derrah

Fedotik, Sean Simbro

Rohde, Partick Mapel

Ferapoint, Jeremy Geidt

Anfisa, Mikki Lipsey

Soldiers, Freddy Franklin, Elbert Joseph, Mason Sand


Performance Information: Now until January 1 at the LoebDramaCenter, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge

Ticket Information: Visit or call (617)-547-8300


In the end, a Chekhov play is always, well, utterly Chekhov. Depressing. Melodramatic. Intense, but slow-moving. Usually devoid of a true climax beyond the opening scene. And all this material stems from a playwright who, I've been told, thought most of his plays were comedy. Comedy. Who would have thought?


Despite the serious lack of humor, however, there's something in his work that keeps you mesmerized and enthralled, though the subject matter oftentimes borders on the fine line between fascinating and disturbing. You can love a Chekhov play or hate it, but like a fine wine or a particularly poor "American Idol" contestant, you just can't tear yourself away. The addictive properties of a Chekhov are such that once you begin, there's no turning back, and for better or for worse, this is clearly the case with the American Repertory Theatre's production of Three Sisters, which is an adaptation of the Chekhov play by renowned Polish director, set designer, and percussionist Krystian Lupa. 


Three Sisters tells the story of the Prozorov family, whose longing for love and happiness slowly degenerates over time until there is nothing left but the reality of death and despair. The show tracks the lives and interactions of spinster schoolmistress Olga, unhappily married Masha, idealistic Irina, and failed scientist Andrei with each other and the local soldiers, their only companions, in a small Russian town of which they are among the wealthiest residents. As the cycle of life progresses through marriage, birth, and death, the lives of the Prozorov siblings disintegrate, and they are left to survive as they question their reasons to keep on living.


It's amazing that more wasn't lost in the numerous translations from the original text to the English translation of Lupa's adaptation, but what is seen on stage is as timeless and pure as it can be, given the circumstances. Everything is there, from the chemistry between sisters, to the intensity between lovers, to the powerful voids of silence that often say more than mere dialogue ever could. The only unfortunate aspect of this adaptation is that parts of it are sometimes lost in the various layers of Lupa's set or the emphatic strains of music rising from the orchestra pit. While both the set, which brilliantly allows for the integration of layers into the staging and scenery, and music, which serves to effectively create the evolving moods of the production, tremendously add to the production, there are times when both hedge on impeding the show, and unfortunately, it's the audience that suffers.


This suffering is, however, minimal, as the combination of a powerful cast and clever staging truly steal the show. It is the relationship between these two aspects, perhaps, that makes Three Sisters so engaging, despite the fact that its characters plunge deeper into the abyss of despair each moment the play continues. Lupa's set design allows for unique staging that integrates various levels and layers of the space, both on stage and off, and ensures that from utter silence to mid-argument, there are visually no dull moments on stage. 


The cast similarly drives the production and maintains its intensity from beginning to end, a feat which I imagine isn't simple, given that the production runs almost four hours. Regardless of its length, Three Sisters features some truly stand out performances, most notably Molly Ward, who displays the emotional extremes of Masha seamlessly. Julienne Hanzelka Kim gives a strong performance of Andrei's overcompensating wife Natasha, and although there are moments when it seems that Kelly McAndrews is trying just a bit too hard, she ultimately turns in a very solid performance as Olga, the strongest and most rational of the three sisters who winds up as the person she didn't want to become. Tony Award winner Frank Wood gives an engaging performance as Masha's true love, the tough yet vulnerable Vershinin, and contrasts nicely with his more openly emotional yet slightly clueless inherent rival Kulygin, Masha's husband, played by Will LeBow. 


There is no doubt that the American Repertory Theatre's production of Three Sisters is fantastic by any standard, but it is important to note that it may not be everyone's cup of tea. At the very least, it is a heavy production that one does not have the leisure of viewing passively; however, if you're willing to put in the extra effort, this production of  Three Sisters is a classic—in a Chekhov sort of way, of course. 


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From This Author Olena Ripnick

Olena Ripnick is a Boston University journalism student and freelance writer whose introduction to the performing arts took place when she was cast as Gretel (read more...)