CONNECTICUT & BEYOND
Irina (radiant Heather Wood) is about to have her eighteenth birthday as one of three sisters who, during the end of the nineteenth century, are based in a home in provincial Russia, miles from Moscow where they were born. They ardently wish to return. Their father died a year before and now they host a variety of soldiers. Irina dreams of getting out and finding a romantic mate. The middle sister Masha (Natalia Payne), free with her harmless curse phrases, married pedantic Kulygin (Keith Reddin) and finds the relationship boring and altogether unappealing. The senior sister Olga (Wendy Rich Stetson), a teacher at a school, is 28, but finds herself a spinster. The women have one brother, Andrei (Alex Moggridge). He marries Natasha (Emily Kitchens). Natasha, who gives birth to a son, infuriates all of the other women. She treats servants badly and, generally speaking, irritates everyone.
Time and place evolve as the second scene occurs at Christmas and the one following about eighteen months later. By now, Natasha is prodding Olga and Irina to share a room so her baby can have his own space. Irina has been working in a telegraph office and has been pursued by Tuzenbach (Thomas Jay Ryan). There has been a fire and soldiers, blackened, wander in and out of the house. Finally, at the conclusion, the men are readying themselves to leave the home. Older Chebutykin (James Carpenter), as he occasionally has throughout the play, says, "Tara ... ra-boom-deay."
Irina begins the play dressed (by costumer) Ilona Somogyi) in white. Masha, with whom one often empathizes, wears a black dress, while Olga is in blue. One of the more intriguing male characters, Vershinin (Bruce McKenzie) has expressed his love for Masha. This does not, however, end well, for Masha stays with Kulygin.
Beneath, at, and above the surface Three Sisters stresses the strong desire and, in some cases, obsession with a return to Moscow. Thematically, the play asks whether individual life and collective civilization is worth it. Is there any joy within existence? That, surprisingly enough, is not an indicator that this Chekhov is either dull or dreary.
The artistic team for this production includes playwright Sarah Ruhl, who returns to Yale Rep once again. Eurydice, staged there a few years ago, was stunning and remains memorable. This time, she is working with a translation, from Russian to English, provided by Elise Thoron (with Natalya Paramonova and Kristin Johnsen-Neshati). Frankly, I am not certain that one is able to discern exactly where Ruhl has lent her special, proficient and exemplary touch. The production stays true to Chekhov and whoever has contributed deserves significant praise. That surely includes director Les Waters; working with the great playwright requires interpretation based upon understanding and the playwright's intent. Ruhl and, more specifically, Waters grasp the text and impart that comprehension to and through the fine actors.
The melancholic (perhaps the sun will never, ever rise) feel Chekhov creates is mitigated as these actors find comic moments even if life moves on and on and on. The sisters, even during some of the exchanges which might be emotional, do not evidence real bonding with one another. It is important to emphasize that each is singular; still, they are siblings. Men, such as the army doctor, the baron, and newly arrived Vershinin add color and texture. Without them, the script would be flat. But, this is a play about women whose hopes will most likely rest unfulfilled. The lonely search is for purpose.
As designed by Annie Smart, Three Sisters begins in the Prozorov parlor room and unfolds by increments. Eventually, the stage yields to long, lyrical birch trees toward the rearlovely and nearby. As Masha says, early on, "Life is a raspberry: one little bit and it's gone."
Three Sisters continues at the University Theatre, beginning the season for Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, through October 8th. For tickets, call (203) 432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.
- Fred Sokol