Theater review by Jenna Scherer
Of all theater's sacred playwrights, Anton Chekhov might be the hardest to pull off. On one hand, there's something strikingly modern about his characters: bored, self-obsessed aristos lost in the labyrinths of their own minds. But making four acts of existential meandering light up on stage—not to mention sustain an audience's attention—requires a great deal of skill and subtlety from actors and directors alike. When Chekhov works, it's magic; when it doesn't, it can feel interminable.
The Brick Theater and Obvious Volcano's production of Three Sisters, his 1901 drama of yearning and discontent, falls somewhere in the middle. Using Paul Schmidt's clear-voiced English translation, director Maggie Cino tries for an intimate environmental staging, placing the audience on four sides of the sitting and dining rooms of the Prozorovs’ rural estate.
The titular siblings are Olga (Ivanna Cullinan), Masha (Moira Stone) and Irina (Clara Francesca), who live in the countryside and resent it deeply. They're surrounded by a motley assemblage that includes, among others, lovesick soldiers, a frustrated brother and an elderly doctor with a drinking problem. All are stewing in their own lonely ennui, resentful of the slow dissolution of their lives while doing little to stave off the decay. The first half of Cino's production does an admirable job of bringing the audience into this world of the idle rich. The cast's performances mine the often-overlooked comedy inherent in Chekhov, evoking an Arrested Development circa pre-revolutionary Russia.
The production loses its bearing around the same time as the Prozorovs lose theirs. Two different scene changes (neither of which feels dramatically necessary) force audience members to get up from their seats midstream. There's a general air of overdirecting in the second half as the proceedings onstage become more dramatic; the actors' movement and delivery begins to feel unnatural and heightened.
Three Sisters features a large ensemble operating at cross-purposes, and it can be tricky to keep all the tangled webs taut. Strongest of the lot are Stone's appealingly sardonic Masha, Derrick Peterson as a pompous but vulnerable Vershinin and David J. Goldberg's shaded turn as the head of the Prozorov clan. Other performances are weaker, and by the end, much of the air has gone out of the balloon. But the course of Chekhov never did run smooth; and Obvious Volcano's attempt is admirable, even if it doesn't stick the landing.
The Brick. By Anton Chekhov. Translated by Paul Schmidt. Directed by Maggie Cino. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 25mins. One intermission. Through Apr 1.