Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

Three Sisters
Invictus Theatre Company
By Christine Malcom

Also Karen's reviews of The Importance of Being Earnest, The Kite Runner and Six

Bryan Breau, Cat Hermes, Joseph Beal,
Michael B. Woods, Maria Stephens, Ellie Duffey,
Katherine Schwartz, Francis Brady, Renae Stone,
Charlie Diaz, John Wehrman, Brandon Boler;
(kneeling in foreground) Colton Smith

Photo by Aaron Reese Boseman
Invictus Theatre Company is staging the Paul Schmidt translation of Anton Chekov's Three Sisters. As is typical of Invictus, the production is thoughtful about the text and well staged. Moreover, the performances are, on the whole, strong. Nonetheless, the direction by Charles Askenaizer is uneven at times, and those performances don't always entirely connect with one another. This unfortunately tends to take the audience out of certain moments and contributes to the awareness of how long the play can feel.

Kevin Rolfs' scenic design opens with subtle elements that imply the Prózorov home is a gilded cage that nature is encroaching upon, slowly but surely. Upstage left and right, as well as centered above the long dining table set one step above the living room floor, are slender bars. They're lovely, decorative things, but bars nonetheless. These are accompanied by wooden floor-to-ceiling posts painted to look like white birch bark, a motif hinted at on curtains that are tied back at the beginning of the play, and then form the backdrop through which we see the fire that destroys much of the town, and ultimately the garden at the end of the play.

The furniture pieces are well chosen to convey the way the siblings are trapped by their own education, notions of class, and ambition, and Rachel Livingston's well-done scenic dressing and props design maintain the visual integrity. Rolfs uses the device of creeping nature effectively as the scene transitions from the flashier spaces where Andrey and the sisters entertain the brigade to the somewhat shabbier, more disordered interior spaces, until finally, in the garden scenes at the end, the combination of dark, weathered wicker furniture and mossy turf gives us the sense that we, as an audience, have stumbled into the ruins of these people's lives.

Jessie Gowens' costumes are also successful. The sisters are plausibly part of the same time period and household, yet what they wear conveys their distinct personality traits. Natásha's transformation from dowdy "townie" to nouveau riche is well done, and the soldiers uniforms are smart enough that one believes Ólga might truly have cried to see the not-at-all-handsome Baron rendered fatally plain by its absence.

In contrast to the strong visuals, the sound and lighting design by Petter Wahlbäck and Trey Brazeal, respectively, might have done more to support the staging. The sound design doesn't always help to contrast the interior of the Prózorov and the disappointing reality of the surrounding town, and the lighting isn't as helpful as it could have been in conveying the passage of time either within or between acts.

In terms of the performances, Katherine Schwartz stands out particularly as Másha Prózorov. She establishes her presence, unhappily sipping at her flask, even in her long silence at the top of the play as Ólga and Irína chatter away. Schwartz pivots from sullen blackness to rage with believable ease, and the fire of her attraction to Vershínin (Bryan Breau, with whom Schwartz does some lovely, poignant work) is palpable.

As Ólga, Maria Stephens also does good work, if somewhat inconsistently so. In the early, (highly expository, in her defense) scenes, her energy occasionally seems somewhat forced and she almost shouts some of the dialogue. From the point of the fire onward, however, she conveys a much more genuine warmth, exhaustion, and downright humanity.

As Irína, Ellie Duffey struggles to find nuance through much of the early going. She plays much younger than the twenty-year-old she is supposed to be and with everything heightened, there often seems nowhere to go with the performance. As with Stephens, however, Duffey does eventually hit her stride in a number of successful moments. Her fear of Solyóny (played with terrifying and effective intensity by John Wehrman) when he corners her at the house reads as an experience that suddenly, believably ages her, and her weariness in the final conversation with Túzenbach suggests an even greater depth that perhaps steadier direction might have helped to elicit.

The same can likely be said of Cat Hermes as Natásha. Hermes very clearly has well-honed comedy chops, which play well in unearthing Chekov's black humor. Moreover, her fluttery, high-pitched delivery, at times, provides effective contrast with her sudden, disturbing bouts of fury. At other moments, though, it's simply too much for too prolonged a moment, which reads more as an issue with direction than lack of skill in the actor.

As for the men, Kevin Cruz did laudable work as Andrey at this performance (Cruz is the understudy for Michael B. Woods). Like Hermes, Cruz seems to have a strong feel for the bleak hilarity of many of the situations the family encounters. This performance plays very well alongside that of Charlie Diaz as Túzenbach, Irína's ill-fated lover. Diaz exudes patient warmth and earnestness without ever lapsing into something too stereotypically good to be true. The humor he finds is played absolutely (and effectively) straight.

Frank Nall (Ferapónt) and Joseph Beal (Chebutýkin) both have an impressive grasp of the text and a wonderful, naturalistic facility with the dialogue. Both draw genuine laughs, which Beal has the opportunity to pair with poignancy and desperation. As Kulýgin, Francis Brady ought to round out this trio of older men, but Brady's delivery doesn't quite match the tone of his cast mates, which may again speak to the need for some directorial intervention to mesh the large cast.

Three Sisters runs through July 14, 2024, at Invictus Theatre Company, Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park, Chicago IL. For tickets and information, please visit