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The Three Sisters

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

For the title trio of Prozorov sisters in Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters, life since their father's death has been drab and difficult, lacking in excitement, and leaving them wishing they were somewhere else. There are times that audiences attending the Tinderbox Theatre production at the Chekhov NOW Festival may find themselves able to relate.

To be fair, the production itself, directed by Cynthia Croot, is handled as intelligently as can be expected under the circumstances. In most cases, Croot's choices would have led to an effective reductionist take on the show; her production is sparse - with minimal sets by David M. Barber - and Croot and her cast are strongly focused on their performances and the text. But the text itself is a poor adaptation of Chekhov's originals, and Croot has difficulty supporting the production with it.

The translation, by Paul Schmidt is meandering and more modern in tone than the rest of the show seems to want to acknowledge, and probably quite a bit more than Chekhov himself would have liked. While Schmidt's work tends to emphasize the lighter aspects of the text, at many times it is at the expense of the strong, flowing language that is the centerpiece of other translations of The Three Sisters.

To keep up, Croot's direction finds the characters generally living more in the late 20th century than the late 19th. The sisters, always longing to escape their bleak existence and return to Moscow, express and emote their feelings with great abandon, while their brother's midlife crises would not be out of place on a 60-minute TV drama show; subtlety and subtext are missing throughout. This makes the show particularly difficult in its second half, where the surface-level portrayals - occasionally acceptable and even amusing during the more shallow moments earlier on - rob the show's finale of its dramatic grip.

But that it's difficult to take the characters' fates seriously when you don't care about their needs is something that barely seems recognized by Croot or any of the performers beyond the actresses playing the sisters. Angela Fie, Aimee Phelan, and April Sweeney - despite looking and sounding thoroughly American - do their best at giving rounded portrayals with the dullish materials they have to work with. They have believable relationships with each other, and their scenes together always make sense, though their scenes with others seldom come off as well.

Gibson Frazier, as their brother Andrey, and Sara Wolverson as his first love and eventual wife do their best to provide additional tension to the sisters' existences. The rest of the actors are all fine, but make little impression for the most part, though they're all unfailingly modern in their mannerisms and delivery, bringing little color to the show.

The one exception is Hope Salas's strongly caricatured and dishonest turns in two smaller roles, further helping to unravel the stark, realistic environment Croot is trying to establish. Salas gives the play's most unwieldy performance, but even it seems strangely (if unfortunately) at home in this minimalist take on The Three Sisters. Croot is to be encouraged and commended for her ideas, and when she finds a better vehicle (and translation) for them, her productions of Chekhov plays will most likely prove eminently worthwhile.

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The Fourth Annual Chekhov NOW Festival
Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters
The Festival Runs through November 24
Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street between Avenues A and B
Schedule and Tickets: (212) 414-7773