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A CurtainUp Review
The Three Sisters
By Elyse Sommer
Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters falls into the category of a play that in theatrical jargon has legs. More than that those legs are on stilts since it's a play for all seasons--a universal story ofyearning and frustration and also a portrait of a particular society. Small wonder that the Roundabout's production of the play--replete with a truly glittering cast and a director with his own rising star reputation at the helm--was one of the most anticipated even tends to lead to extraordinarily high expectations. All this by way of my saying, that this galaxy of stars glitters only in spurts.
Scott Elliott who is known for his daring direction seemed bent on keeping the emotionally charged story in check. Oh, the play's all there. Lanford Wilson's often jarring Americanization notwithstanding, the many searing lines of hope and despair remain intact--so much so in fact, that the play goes the full 9 yards--or we should say, 3 hours and 15 minutes. That's too long by at least half an hour, especially when you consider that it's all played out on a dark gunmetal gray stage that gives even the generous Criterion Center Stage Right a claustrophobic aura.
The physically somber set overarches everything. It even dulls the Prozorov sisters' fierce devotion to each other. Instead of coming across as a visible emotional port in a sea of disappointments, the sibling bond here seems more forged from habit than deep familial feeling. This is underscored in one of the most emotionally satisfying scenes of the play--when Olga (Amy Irving) despairs at her inability to protect her old nanny Anfisa (Betty Miller). If every scene had this kind of deeply felt interaction, the three hours would fly by and grab more firmly at the audience's heartstrings. This is also true of the other regulars in the sisters' lives who for the most part seem to be wandering in and out rather than inject some bearable moments to the otherwise unbearable ennui of these lives so unhappily lived in a provincial outpost instead of that metaphoric city of possibilities, Moscow.
As already mentioned, the stellar cast does glitter in spurts. Amy Irving, while rarely as gripping as in the above-mentioned scenes, does capture Olga's weariness very well. Jeanne Tripplehorne as Masha has a moment when she first meets Vershinin (David Strathairn) when she lets you sense the stirring of her attraction to him. Unfortunately, that's as far as it goes. The audience shares nothing of the passion between them Straithairn's own finest moment is not connected to his affair with Masha, but in the scene where he describes finding his little girls after the fire, their mother gone, their faces full of terror. . ."My God, I thought, what will these children have to go through the rest of their lives?"
More than a few glittering moments belong to the hapless Prozorov brother Andrei, played by Paul Giamatti, (whose acting energized The Blues Are Running ) reviewed earlier in the season. Calista Flockham who plays his wife is a tad more elegant and beautiful than the peasant upstart Chekhov depicts. Yet she's quite electrifying in the scene when she makes the old Nanny stand in her presence. Eric Stolz as Baron Tuzenbach and Billy Crudup as Solyony and Ben Hammer as Ferapont are all more than creditable. If I close without mentioning David Marshall Grant or Jerry Stiller, it's because I hate to be mean spirited about the actor who was so spectacularly good in Angels in America or about Mr. Stiller who simply doesn't belong in this play.
To sum up, a major production of this great play is always worth seeing, even if its assets are measurable mostly in moments. Readers interested in the avant-garde should take note that the version of Three Sisters we reviewed during its initial run at the downtown Le Mama is having a brief encore.