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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: Three Sisters

Mara Lazaris, Kayleigh Choiniere, Chantale Demole as the sisters (Photo credit: Hombeline Dumas) 

Someone takes on Chekhov...finally!
By Byron Toben
The Dawson theatre program strikes again with a classic revisited. After staging Shakespeare's “Merchant of Venice” last November, it has now mounted a fine “Three Sisters” by Chekhov. These classics still resonate with us despite the distance of place and phrase. That's  why they are called classics (it also helps no royalties need be paid).
Moscow! Moscow!

Director Barbara Kelly must have needed a military like mentality to orchestrate the 26 roles played by 22 students (17 of which alternate parts on different nights). This is apropos as the play is set in one of those unnamed provincial towns which dotted the Russian landscape at the turn of the last century, in which the stationing of a military contingent seemed to be the main  motor of the local economy. (Talk about your military-industrial complex!).
Local families rent rooms or entertain the stationed troops. Such is the case with the Moscow-born three sisters Prozorov - Olga, Masha and Irina - who are now orphans after their father, a Colonel, moved them to this town when they were tiny. More refined and educated than the local yokels, they dream, especially young Irina, of someday returning to Moscow, where all will become well.
Into this replication of trivial complaints, two officers Vershinin and Tizenbach, discuss the future. Vershinin is hopeful that the future human, descended from elevated persons such as the sisters, will evolve into a Utopia, whether it may take a hundred years or a thousand. Tizenbach, however, fears that even though society may one day have machines that fly through the air, it will still have the same depressing animal instincts. A military doctor waiting retirement, Chebutykin, avoids choosing futures by reiterating, over vodka, that “It makes no difference”.
...a very Russian panorama.

Against these flights of philosophy are juxtaposed with daily concerns - burdens with children and families, feelings of sexual frustration, realities of class distinction - to create a very Russian panorama.
Apparently, Chekhov originally envisaged his dramas as multi-laugh farces and argued with Stanislavsky, who nevertheless parachuted the literary doctor into big time at the Moscow Arts theatre by stressing the sad, depressing side of his texts.
The Sisters three also have a bookish brother, Andrei (so they, as Siblings Prozorov, can tie Dostoyevsky’s four Brothers Karamazov?). Alas, Andrei marries an awkward lower-cast Natasha, who evolves as the controlling mistress of the house, after he develops a gambling addiction. This results in the sisters being dispossessed of their own house and the impetus to write, as with Ibsen`s “A Doll's House” a sequel with  what happened after? Indeed, South African writer Reza de Wet did so successfully with the cutesy title of “Three Sisters Two”. Aside from the more than creditable performances of the student actors, Dawson has afforded opportunities for 52 other apprentices to learn the related crafts: 9 in costumes, 16 front of house, 15 on Set/Light, 12 on Paint/Props. The three in Sound/Music design also performed in musical interludes on stage.

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