A wooden house frames a bare stage. Projections of Chekhov serve as the backdrop, slowly flickering against an enormous plastic sheet. A row of chairs lines the stage. The show is not the modern, experimental theatre you would expect from such a set-up, but rather, the Spring Carleton Players production: Chekhov’s Three Sisters, directed by Roger Bechtel. (Note: the three sisters and Natasha are double-cast; this review reflects the actresses who performed on April 30). This is a wonderful production that refreshes an old Russian story with a spectacular set and cast alike—it truly feels professional.
The house in rural Russia belongs to the Prozorov sisters: Caring spinster Olga (Sasha Blinnikova ’17/Jane Kelly ’18), who teaches at the local school, short-tempered, blunt Masha (Mairead Koehler ’17/ Lexi Norvet ’16), who is unhappy in her marriage, and idealistic Irina (Sarah Tan ’16/ Bethany McHugh ’15), who dreams of going to Moscow. Their brother Andrei (Patton Small ’17), gets tangled in his relationship with controlling Natasha (Grace Black ’16/Phoebi Yu ’16), as soldiers come into the picture to further complicate the family’s lives.
The play confronts political realities while constantly holding Moscow as their motivation. With all the characters that occupy the stage this play is ultimately about real, complicated sisters and their relationships with each other—always a winner to this feminist.
The cast is electric: Blinnikova’s Olga stands stoic through all the drama the family encounters, always protecting her sisters. As she takes on responsibilities she doesn’t want, she remains steadfast, her emotions remarkably nuanced. Koehler’s Masha is witty, speaking volumes through her body language. Her relationship with soldier Vershinin (Nathan Bern ’17) is one of the standout moments of the show—their steamy affair is beautifully acted, and I felt Masha’s pain right alongside her. Tan’s Irina is simultaneously young and weary, breaking down and bouncing back from the bright-eyed optimist to the woman she grows into. Other notable performances are Black’s manipulative Natasha, who transforms into her true colors by act II, Stu Lourey’s eager Baron Tusenbach, who fantasizes about one day going to work, and Small’s Andrei, who crumbles under Natasha’s wrath.
The only issue I had with the play was the lengthy second half—there is a very dramatic opening (which is amazing, but I won’t spoil it!), which prepared me for a short ending, but it continued for a while longer. Don’t worry, though, some of the most heart-wrenching moments of the show are in this half, so I loosened up to it. Some of the cast, such as the soldiers, changed into modern dress— a nice aesthetic choice that conveys the symbolic turnover that the end of the play brings.
Bechtel’s choices regarding visual symbolism cut deep: the flowers that line the front of the stage, the physical house and the meaning it embodies, the constant sounds of camera shutters and historical footage all culminate into an impressive visual production. I encourage anyone interested in Russian, theatre, or well-written female characters to see Three Sisters, this weekend and next. In the words of Masha, “sometimes you win, sometimes you lose”, and Three Sisters is a huge winner.