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Albuquerque's Vortex Theatre offers
Chekhov's Timeless Comic Tragedy Three Sisters

Three Sisters
Laura Claggett, Hannah Kauffmann and Wendy Scott
One of the founding members of Albuquerque Theatre Guild, Vortex The Theatre regularly treats Albuquerque audiences to original and classic dramas, including recent productions of Antigone and Medea. This summer Vortex offers a 2010 Shakespeare Festival of comedies: Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing.

The Vortex is currently bringing to life Chekhov's timeless family saga of provincial boredom and despair, satirizing the human condition of yearning for pleasures endlessly deferred on the evanescent vanishing horizon. In four acts, the Prozorov family (a brother and three sisters) reach feebly for a future that recreates their nostalgic past more than a decade earlier in Moscow. Hope flickers for each in the first act, as they commemorate the first anniversary of their father's death and the 20th birthday of the youngest, Irina. A handsome new regiment commander, Vershinin, arrives from Moscow, and Andrei proposes marriage to provincial Natasha.

The soldiers and an army doctor who hang out at the Prozorov estate philosophize about the progress of history and how advanced humanity will be 200 or 300 years in the future. Everything trickles relentlessly into disappointment in the next three acts, as Andrei's wife Natasha expands in self-importance to drive the three sisters away. Adultery and deceit trump harmony and compassion, and a foolish quarrel among two men ends in a fatal duel which kills the man who was to marry the youngest sister the next day.

As the responsible eldest sister Olga, Wendy Scott shrinks, frowns and ages before our eyes over four years in her suffocating job as head school mistress.

As the talented and educated middle sister who married at eighteen to a foolish but devoted husband whom she has grown to despise, Hannah Kauffmann exhibits Masha's elegant boredom with a stiff spine and stony demeanor. She briefly comes to life in an affair with Vershinin and then collapses into despair when the regiment moves on.

As the mercurial youngest sister Irina, Laura Clagett shines brightest of the three strong performers. She dances with girlish glee in the opening scene, wails in despair at the end of acts two and three, yearning to return to civilization and life in Moscow, and finally hardens into Olga's stoicism in the final moments, accepting the tragic death of the man she didn't love but was to marry the next day as her only escape from the provinces.

Justin Young plays the distracted scholar Andrei who gambles away the family estate while sinking into a loveless marriage with greedy social-climbing Natasha, played with exaggerated vanity by Merritt C. Glover.

Peter Diseth steals the spotlight as the garrulous Vershinin who falls in love with Masha while bemoaning his suicidal wife who never appears. As perhaps the comic authorial voice of pathos and melodrama, he predicts brighter future generations who will build their happiness on the present despair if only he and his companions continue to work and hope.

Matt Heath comfortably fills the other Chekhov alter-ego as army doctor Chebutykin, a doting father figure to Irina, as the play opens. By the third act he has descended into his own drunken dissolute despairing hell, not helping those in need but stirring up rancor by revealing Natasha's affair with her husband's boss.

Benjamin Liberman provides brilliant comic relief as Masha's silly husband, always searching for his wife who has just slipped away with her paramour, always reminding those who have stopped listening to him that he is a happy man. Other accomplished actors fill out the remaining large cast.

Leonard Madrid and Josh Bien have created an amber glow of nostalgia in the first two acts with lighting and scenic designs that simultaneously reveal two interior rooms and a stand of old trees outside. In act three, Olga and Irina's cramped bedroom, flashing crimson from a blaze sweeping through the neighborhood, symbolizes the rapid destruction of family hope. The final act set outside amidst the trees represents family heritage soon to be chopped down by the monstrous Natasha. Perhaps Chekhov is foreshadowing his next and final play, The Cherry Orchard, in this final act of his penultimate drama.

Located across the street from the University of New Mexico, The Vortex Theatre reaps the talents of current and emeritus faculty and students for many of its productions. To direct Three Sisters, recently retired theatre professor Denise Schulz has moved seamlessly from university to community theatre to demonstrate that Chekhov's comic despair plays as relevantly in 21st century Albuquerque as it did in its original production in 1901 at The Moscow Art Theatre under Stanislavsky's direction. Three Sisters holds an Aristotelian mirror up to our own pathos and false pride to reveal that human folly marches inexorably onward into whatever future awaits the human race.

Three Sisters will be presented at The Vortex Theatre, 2004 Central Ave. NE, Albuquerque, through May 30, 2010, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 6 pm. For reservations, visit vortexabq.org or call 505 247 8600. Tickets are $15, cash, check, Visa or Mastercard.


Photo: Alan Mitchell

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Albuquerque area

-- Rosemary Keefe



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