by James Wilkinson
Three Sisters – Written by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Tracey Letts. Presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company. Directed, Sets and Lights by Danielle Fauteux Jacques. Costume Design by Elizabeth Rocha. Sound Design by Camilo Atehortua. Musical Direction by Demetrius Fuller & Robert Orzalli. Dialect Coach, Christopher Sherwood Davis. Presented by the Apollinaire Theatre Company at 189 Winnisimmet St, Chelsea through January 21
I have found that there’s a very odd phenomena in the theater community where the plays of Anton Chekhov are concerned. Everyone sort of assumes that everyone loves Chekhov (his work, that is). Personally, I’ve always run hot and cold with his plays, though I would be hard pressed to be able to put my finger on exactly why. I enjoy Uncle Vanya and a number of his comic sketches, but I haven’t been able to stomach getting through even a reading of either The Seagull or The Cherry Orchard since college. Three Sisters, however, has always stood apart in my mind. For some reason, that’s the play of his where all of the elements click together and the genius of Chekhov becomes apparent to me. I adore the play. When I walked into Apollinaire Theatre Company’s production of Three Sisters, now playing at Chelsea Theatre Works, I went with high expectations and can joyfully report back that the production more than met them. If you’ve never before encountered the work of the great Russian master, then Apollinaire Theatre Company’s production is a fantastic introduction.
The three sisters of the title, Olga, Irina and Masha, live on a large estate in the Russian countryside with their brother, Andrey. A year has passed since their father’s death and all the sisters can think about is Moscow. “To Moscow, to Moscow,” they pine, dreaming of the day when they can move back to the bustling metropolis where they believe that happiness awaits them. Will they ever get there? I won’t spoil it for the uninitiated. However, be forewarned that this is very much a play about life’s lost possibilities. Over the course of the play’s four acts, as we watch the siblings interact with friends and family, the audience develops an incredible intimacy with the characters as we slowly learn their hopes, fears and longings.
There’s a lot to admire about the production, not least of all the wonderful way director/designer Danielle Fauteux Jacques has managed to make the production paradoxically feel both incredibly large and incredibly small. There are scenes with all eighteen actors on stage, each of them spinning around each other, moving this way and that like an elegantly choreographed dance. Yet when I think back to the evening as whole, what most caught my eye were individual moments. The way one character patted another on his back in a gesture of comfort. The glisten in an eye as someone gazes across the room to another. A look of shame one character tries to hide from the group. Director Jacques embraces the naturalistic quality of Chekhov’s writing and stages the show very much as if the audience is a fly on the wall at the Russian estate. Characters run in and out of doors on their way to other locations – sometimes interrupting the action in front of us – and it starts to feel like we’re listening in on something we weren’t supposed to see or hear. The large staging allows our gaze to freely wander and catch those beautiful small moments between characters. There is always some new moment to catch. I dare say you could see the production twenty times and still find new things to notice.
It helps that Jacques has a company of actors that seems eager to dig into the rich material. Despite the lack of large plot points, it’s wrong to say that this is a play where nothing happens. At any given moment there could be three or four things happening. Rather we’re watching relationships expand and change over time and the cast handles the evolutions beautifully. I could praise each of them individually, but as the title suggests, this play lives and dies by its three sisters and here this production shines. Siobhan Carroll (Irina), Deniz Khateri (Masha) and Becca A. Lewis (Olga) are the emotional core of this play and they shoulder the responsibility with grace.
More than anything, I appreciated how the elusive nature of time seemed to be soaked into the marrow of the production. Watching the action of the play bounce from one side of the room to the other, I often found myself desperate to catch each moment as it played out, afraid that I would miss something, and often finding that an image or idea had floated away like lost time. At the heat of the sisters’ cries for Moscow is their belief that the key to happiness lies somewhere else that they’re not, with people they’re not with, doing what they’re not doing. They remain so fixed on their potential future that the present slips away from their grasp. You may ask why you should spend an evening with such decidedly miserable people. First I would reply that it’s not all gloom; this company finds some wonderful moments of comedy and joy in their character’s lives. Second, I would say that it reveals something particular to the human experience. More than a hundred years have passed since the first production of Chekhov’s play, but human nature has remained stubbornly the same. We’re always looking out the window, longing to go to Moscow. For tickets and more information, visit their website at www.apollinairetheatre.com