The Three Sisters
A revival that is surprising and funny and offers the rich joy of Chekhov done well
Reviewed by Hannah Kenah, Fri., Nov. 21, 2008
The Three SistersMary Moody Northen Theatre, through Nov. 23
Running time: 2 hr, 35 min
When Marc Pouhé, a tall and regal man, strides onto the stage, you expect to see a commanding display of masculine authority. Instead, he opens his mouth and knows not what to say. He stammers out a few pleasantries, then attempts a quick exit. It is surprising, it is funny, and it sums up what is essentially wonderful about the Mary Moody Northen Theatre production of Chekhov's The Three Sisters at St. Edward's University. When done well, Chekhov is hilarious. The humor is a necessary counterpart to the heartbreak and suffering. Without it, you might wonder why you are being made to listen to these characters complain and philosophize. Though the titular sisters may spend much of the play talking about how miserable their lives are, it is clear to the audience that this world, brimming with life and peppered with surprises, is anything but tedious.
Moscow, Moscow, Moscow. It's all the sisters can talk or think or hope about. They lived there when they were young but then moved to a small, provincial town where, according to them, no one is educated or has amounted to anything. Because they plan to return to Moscow, the sisters keep putting life and happiness on hold. They pin all dreams to that elusive city, but for reasons unknown to the audience, the plans never work. The sisters therefore live in a self-inflicted and strangely privileged purgatory. They are wealthy and well-educated. Masha complains of being bored, yet she has an affair with the man she loves and treats her cuckolded husband like dirt. Olga complains of the promotion she will eventually receive. Irina glorifies the idea of work. She imagines it would be better to do manual labor than to, as she does, get up at noon and drink coffee in bed. It's not that there is no real suffering for them. Amazingly, the more they talk about their sorrow, the more real it becomes. As they wait for Moscow, their lives begin to shrivel.
Sheila Gordon's direction weaves the layered world of this play into a cohesive and entertaining evening. The actors are well-suited to their roles. Ev Lunning Jr. is a wonderful Chebutykin, an army doctor who is everything from kind to drunk to numb over the course of the story. There is good chemistry between Pouhé's Vershinin and Dorothy Anne Bond's Masha. Steffanie Ngo-Hatchie makes a convincingly sweet Irina, and Julia Trinidad is a stalwart Olga. Nathan Osborn broods and charms as the Baron. Finally, the two villains, the brother who gambles away the family's money and his cruel wife, are excellently played by Austin D. Alexander and Lauren Hayes. Hayes is particularly enjoyable as she evolves from nervous country mouse to bitchy tyrant.
MMNT's production is smartly designed. There is a refined air to Michael Massey's intricate set, and Diana Duecker's lights evoke the feel of each passing season. (The play's four acts take place in spring, winter, summer, and autumn.) At times, things are a bit overworked. The staging and the set changes can be intricate to the point of distraction. The actors periodically get caught up in "acting" in order to meet the challenges of this famous text. But those are very minor things to complain about, and if Chekhov wants us to learn anything from his Three Sisters, it might be to stop complaining. Stop waiting for Moscow, and live life now! We must be happy with life as it actually is, and Chekhov done well is certainly one of the great joys to be found.