The Three Sisters
Once upon a time, in a small provincial town in Russia, there lived three sisters, named Olga, Irina and Masha. Their parents were dead, leaving them with plenty of education and a good deal of money but nothing interesting to do. And all they wanted in the world was to move back to Moscow. Sounds simple enough but there is a whole world encompassed in Anton Chekhov’s The Three Sisters. Like an Impressionist painter (think Seurat and his dots of color), Chekhov takes moments out of ordinary life, sketches quick portraits of people with broad strokes that hint at what’s underneath the surface and encapsulates entire lifetimes in the space of three hours. And all the while it seems that the characters are just having a cup of tea. Or, in the playwright’s own words: Let everything on the stage be just as complex and at the same time just as simple as in life. People have dinner, merely dinner, but at that moment their happiness is being made or their life is being smashed. Chekhov’s writing is a miracle of understatement and – no disrespect to The Cherry Orchard or The Seagull – Three Sisters may be his dramatic masterpiece. The production newly opened at American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco comes very close to doing it complete justice. The curtain rises on Ralph Funicello’s stark white minimalist set, stunning in its simplicity, suggesting the dining room of a wealthy country house with a hint of birch trees rising in the background. It is Irina’s (Katherine Powell) 20th birthday. Officers from the local garrison sit around discussing life and Olga (Lorri Holt), the oldest sister, fusses with preparations for a party. The third sister, Masha (Rene Augesen) reclines on a lounge, center stage, reading, all in black like a beautiful, brooding, silent bird. Olga, a schoolteacher, is overworked. (Things never work out the way we want them to.) Irina stays in bed until noon, although she thinks she ought to get up and do something useful. (What’s the point of knowing three languages in a town like this?) Masha is unbelievably bored. (Marriage is boring but loneliness is worse.
) Their brother Andrei (Tommy A. Gomez) frustrated in his hopes of becoming a professor of science stays in his room and plays his violin. All three live in their memories of a happier past or dreams of a rosy future. Today seems to be a throwaway. Some four years pass during the course of the play and much will occur. People fall in and out of love, husbands are betrayed, people grow old and one dies. The family goes on dreaming. The people they gather around them aren’t much better. Kulygin (Gregory Wallace), a schoolteacher and Masha’s husband is so caught up in his self-importance he hardly notices that he is losing his wife. And when he does, he keeps insisting that he is perfectly happy. Vershinin (Marco Baricelli), the new officer in town who becomes Masha’s lover, looks to the perfection of humankind some two or three hundred years down the pike. So, what does it matter if we suffer today? Chebutykin, the aging drunken army doctor (Steven Anthony Jones) who has forgotten everything he once knew and doesn’t care anymore, endlessly echoes that sentiment.
List of Characters
ANDREY SERGEEVICH PROZOROV
NATALYA IVANOVNA, also called NATASHA (his fiancée, afterwards his wife)
FYODOR ILICH KULYGIN (high-school teacher, husband of MASHA)
LIEUTENANT-COLONEL ALEXANDR IGNATEVICH VERSHININ (battery commander)
BARON NIKOLAY LVOVITCH TUZENBAKH (Lieutenant)
VASSILY VASILEVICH SOLYONY (Captain)
IVAN ROMANOVICH CHEBUTYKIN (Army Doctor)
ALEXEY PETROVITCH FEDOTIK (Second Lieutenant)
VLADIMIR KARLOVITCH RODE (Second Lieutenant)
FERAPONT (an old Porter from the Rural Board)
ANFISA (the nurse, an old woman of eighty)