If you have been keeping up with the Copious blog, this will not come as a surprise to you: I love Chekhov. I loveloveloveloveLOVE Chekhov. If you, too, are a lover of Chekhov—or if you are not, but are interested in learning why someone could be—you should immediately go get some tickets to see The Seagull Project’s production of The Three Sisters, playing through February 8th at ACT. One-sentence summary: Everyone involved in this production is a Chekhov pro, and they have made some really awesome art, and everybody should see it. Director John Langs and the ensemble have embraced this text fully without ever giving into the temptation to comment on any of it, creating a world where these characters are alternatively screaming and wailing and railing against the world, shaking and sobbing and vomiting their hearts out onto the stage with full unironic commitment—and the audience is both laughing uproariously and internally going, “Yeah, me too, boo. Me too.” CHEKHOV!
Three Sisters opens with the warm but over-worked Olga, restless and sarcastic Masha, and blithely optimistic Irina, conversing in their parlor on the one-year anniversary of their father’s death. As it also happens to be Irina’s name day, the local battalion of friendly soldiers are filtering in for a party, gossiping about their new commander, Vershinin, and the blossoming romance between Andrey—the girls’ brother, who is such a disappointment he isn’t even in the title—and Natasha, universally agreed upon to be just the worst. Various family friends filter in and out bringing gifts to the perpetually cheerful Irina, who insists that now that she is 20, she must get a job, as the only real joy in life comes from the satisfaction of a job well done. Olga, who seems to teach about seventy hours a day at the local high school, tries very hard not to dampen her sister’s enthusiasm with tales of the never-ending headaches her own job gives her—while Masha, who doesn’t seem to do anything but read and scoff at other people, insists that all this talk depresses her and she must go home and lie down at once. The arrival of the aforementioned Vershinin, however, puts these plans on hold; he proves to be a witty and interesting man—particularly in comparison to the scattered bumbler that is her husband—and she decides she’d rather stay at the party and flirt than go home and mourn for herself in solitude. Baron Nikolai Lvovich attempts some flirting himself, sweetly nudging Irina with his affections, but is perpetually interrupted by the strange and inappropriate nonsequiters of his weird and brutal friend Solyony, who is without doubt the worst wingman in the world.
The play follows this group over the next four years, as they learn a few valuable lessons: 9-to-5ing isn’t actually that much fun, you should listen to your friends when they tell you your girlfriend is horrible, dating a boy just because he likes you isn’t all that fulfilling, wanting what you know you can’t have is a one-way ticket to heartbreak town… Also everybody gets at least one chance to sob and scream, and everyone is also so unfairly funny. Three great examples: Noah Duffy as Rode, taking what is usually a tiny part and turning him into a delightfully scene-stealing diva (in a good way. The best way.) Brandon J. Simmons as Masha’s fool husband, Kulyigin: mustache, manic energy, hilarious hilarious hilarious. Hannah Victoria Franklin as Natasha: seven feet tall, Amazon warrior, so committed to why Natasha is just the worst, please put this woman in all the things.
If you like stellar tech work, they’ve got that in spades here as well. Scenic Designer Jennifer Zeyl (genius), Lighting Designer Robert J. Aguilar (genius), Sound Designer Robertson Witmer (genius) and Costume Designer Doris Black (genius) have created the beautiful and immersive world of the Sisters’ home and garden rooms with very simple elements. The set itself is comprised entirely of two gigantic white tables that serve as various structural pieces, a handful of white chairs, two rolling screens, some bleach-white props, and a handful of angular birch trees jutting up out of the stage at various corners. The bright and cheery colors of the soldiers’ uniforms are in stark contrast to the sisters themselves—Olga is always in very respectful and conservative blazers and skirts in colors like navy blue, Irina wears a lot of summer dresses and cozy sweaters in untarnished white and gentle beige tones, and Masha is constantly in dramatic floor-length black mourning dresses; you know who these people are and what they are like the moment you first see them, and that is some damn fine costume designing. The lights are beautiful and cold, effortlessly sweeping us all through days and nights in a series of chilly Russian springs and autumns (and at least one terrifying disaster.) The scene transitions are accompanied by live music performed by the cast—sometimes on guitars and mandolins, sometimes with glasses and silverware, and once, horrifyingly, with various types of paper. Each character has been given a method of scene transitioning specific to their story and personality, elevating the transitions out of the easy world of “we couldn’t afford a run crew so here are some actors slamming chairs around and grunting and look it’s art” and making them a truly compelling element of the storytelling.
There is no reason not to see this play. Please do it at once. Then come talk to me about it and we can geek out together.
– – – Want a discount on tickets to The Three Sisters!? Use the discount code MASHA for 20% off your order! – – –
By Kiki Penoyer (playwright, Taphouse)