Playwright and director Aaron Posner's contemporary original No Sisters and Anton Chekhov's modern classic Three Sisters (1901), translated by Paul Schmidt, fuse the classic and the contemporary in a power move that is calculated to attract theatregoers of all persuasions.

The Milton Theater (No Sisters) sits above the larger Mead Theater (Three Sisters). Staged in tandem, the two plays share both a cast and a production team. Actors run up and down a set of stairs back and forth from one theater to the other. I caught the Sunday matinee of Three Sisters followed an evening performance of No Sisters.

Three Sisters is a quasi- dramatic, somewhat farcical foray into the backwaters of Russia. The three sisters Prozorova, Olga (Bridget Flannery), Masha (Caroline Hewitt), and Irina (a starry-eyed Emilie Krause) are sustained by their dream of moving to Moscow. Over the course of four years, the sisters must suffer a barrage of underwhelming and unstable male suitors and weather the physical calamities that occur offstage, out of our sight. The audience is privy only to the emotional consequences of unseen events. It's a little like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. In this way, Chekhov defies the classical plot structure.

BWW Review: THREE SISTERS AND NO SISTERS  at Studio TheatreOn the flipside, Posner's No Sisters fills in the gaps. Three Sisters relies heavily on a romanticized past and an idealized future but in No Sisters, characters confront their gritty realities and weigh them against their dreams for love and acceptance.

The characters that are the quietest in Three Sisters reign supreme in No Sisters. Tuzenbach (Bo Robbie), Fedotik, Anfisa (Nancy Robinette), Solyony (Biko Eisen-Martin), Natasha (Kimberley Gilbert), and Andrey (Ryan Rilette) take center stage and wax philosophical.

Posner grounds No Sisters by incorporating the audience into the performance. Solyony pleads with individual audience members on his hands and knees. Tuzenbach surveys the audience about their first romantic experience.

In Three Sisters, no one knows they're in a play. But in No Sisters, they know they're in two. The rules are different. Characters use modern language and creative curse words. Here are selection of my favorites: Christ-on-a-cracker, fuck-a-duck, and shapoopie. Nuclear warheads and joints exist. Are we in Chekhov's reality, Aaron's reality, or the actor's reality? So muses Solyony in a compelling and visceral performance by Eisen-Martin.

In No Sisters Natasha (dismissed as a "bitch" by an indiscreet audience member during Three Sisters) is a heroine to any woman who has ever been told to "calm down."

Rather than striving for cohesion, set designer David Conway's two sets are distinct. The Mead Theatre is expanded and lightened by the careful placement of Birch tree trunks that rise from the stage up into the lights, reminiscent of the romance pastoral Russia elicits.

Director Jackson Gay incorporates traditional music (Nick Torres, Daven Ralston, Josh Thomas) to further enhance the mood.

Upstairs, the Milton Theatre is a cozy, cluttered space, a green room and prop room with a little bit of a backstage vibe thrown in for good measure. Mismatched chandeliers hang throughout the theatre. Seven black and white TVs of assorted sizes live-stream the action onstage downstairs. The effect is eerie and voyeuristic but they help keep the actors on track. After all, they can't afford to be late to appear in Three Sisters.

Lighting designer Jesse Belsky, costume designer Jessica Ford, and sound designer Christopher Baine contribute to both productions.

Studio Theatre's No Sisters and Three Sisters are a considerable time commitment. But really, there is little to nitpick. Over 115 years separate these "sister" (pun intended) plays but they manage to contribute to each other in meaningful ways. No Sisters, in particular, is Studio Theatre at its very best. Do with that what you will.

Running Time: 3 hours, including a 15-minute intermission (each)

Advisory: Adult language and themes, violence

THREE SISTERS and NO SISTERS plays through April 23rd at Studio Theatre located at 1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC, 20005. For tickets call (202) 332-3300 or click here.

Photo credit: Caroline Hewitt, Ryan Rilette, William Vaughan, Emilie Krause, Josh Thomas, Craig Wallace, Ro Boddie, and Nick Torres in Three Sisters. Photo: Teresa Wood. Bridget Flanery, Emilie Krause, Ryan Rilette, and Caroline Hewitt in Three Sisters. Photo: Teresa Wood.

Photo credit: Biko Eisen-Martin in No Sisters. Photo: Teresa Wood.

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From This Author Jenny Minich

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