By Anton Chekov
Adapted by Libby Appel
Directed by Mark Edward Smith
Starring Hannah Benitez, Rachel Comeau, and Melissa Whitworth
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando FL
Russian drama: you can’t tell the players even with a score card. Written on the eve of the 1906 Russian Revolution, “Three Sisters” is Chekov’s second-last play. We meet a collection of Russian architypes, all trapped in an unidentified Podunkski of 100,000 people. We know little of the town other than its wide river, its northern latitude, and its fading military importance. But we do sense the roots of the revolution: a rising middle class of Kulaks and intellectuals squeezed between the old aristocracy and the ever starving peasant class. Opportunity is as rare as a soft summer day, and the mindset of privileged refuses to die.
Five gun batteries defended Podunkski against polar bears and summer, yet the subtle terrorism of ennui pervades the town. Olga (Whitworth), Masha (Benitez), and Irina (Comeau) live with their intellectual brother Andrei (Mike Carr). In Act One the girls are filled with romantic ideas and Andrei aims for a teaching gig at the prestigious Moscow University. By Act Two, the situation slips down the Russian drain. Andrei marries domineering Natasha (Julie Snyder), Masha falls into an affair with dashing yet married Vershinin (Brian Brightman), and Olga stares a permanent and boring career in academia in the eye. Acts two and three continue the spiral down the drain and the city loses its economic engine of the gun batteries. By now fates are sealed, and Tuzenbach (Adam Reilly) dies from a Chekovian gunshot leaving Irina alone. Only the endless birch forest and the crystalline winter will survive.
Moody scenes glow under exaggerated blues and oranges. The blues bring cold birch forests to crystalline life (kudos to Lisa Buck for the extra cool moveable birch forest). Strong oranges emphasize the warmth of this soon to go critical nuclear family. All of these sisters stand out sharply: earthy Masha, ethereal Irina, and frozen ice queen Olga. The fourth element, Fire, resides in Natasha’s burning jealousy consuming the entire family. The military men are unreliable narrators; Doctor Chebutykin philosophizes until it drives him to drink and you never hear his real name on stage. Smooth Vershinin identifies the vulnerable, seducing the unhappy Masha, and Baron Tuzenbakh plunges meteor-like from a safe military career into a foolish duel. In Russia there is always hope and joy yet disaster is a step away. All want to go to Moscow, that gleaming city on the hill, yet it might as well be Mars for all these country folks. Even if they started walking and made it to the front door of the Kremlin, they would still be a million versts away.
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