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A CurtainUp Review
The Three Sisters
By David Lohrey
The production currently on view at The Theatre-Studio is a radically reduced version of the great Russian classic. Here the four-act play appears in less than ninety minutes without an intermission. Artistic director A. M. Raychel has cut within each act, attempting at once to save and preserve the core of the work while saving the audience at least two hours of its time. Whether works of art should be altered or reduced to satisfy contemporary needs is not our subject; suffice to say that one can readily understand a theatre producer's hesitation to produce a classic with a three hour plus running time. Considering the task she has set herself, this director's reduced version works at many levels while at times sacrificing dramatic clarity.
What has not been lost is the essence of what might be called Chekhovian mood. This has been preserved and admirably recreated. Chekhov plays with our propensity to conceal anxiety and to feign good humor. This sensibility is well represented by the overall fine performance of the three leads. Patricia Runcie (Olga), Stephanie Bourgeois Fend (Masha) and Alsion Saltz (Irina) provide skillfully disciplined performances. Each has a distinct way of coping with inertia. Most impressive was Ms Fend's ability to communicate that Chekhovian blend of rebelliousness and despair. Her expressive, pained face is especially pleasing and disturbing to watch.
The rest of the large cast performs well on what must be one of the smallest stages in New York. It is a small miracle that Ms Raychel's deft direction keeps these beautifully costumed players from bumping in to each other. This is Chekhov performed in a virtual closet, with the audience invited to peek in. This is not perhaps not a bad thing, considering the themes of claustrophobia and suffocation that mark this masterpiece.
A more than competent supporting cast helps the leads. Of special note are Joshua Kauffman (Andrei), Bea O'Whyte (Natasha), and Alex Silverman (Chebutykin). Ms O'Whyte seems to have a flair for playing arrogance with style, while Mr. Kauffman succeeds in carrying himself with the nonchalance of the Russian landed gentry.
Theatregoers are no doubt pleased to be free of the three-hour plus evening at the theatre. The three-act play has now been replaced by the two-act and, increasingly, by the ever-popular 90 minute intermission-less evening. However, this reduced evening of Chekhov makes this reviewer yearn for more. I'd stay the entire evening if Ms Raychel and Company chose to restore this reduced gem to its original splendor.
Editor's Note: This is enough of a classic to turn up regularly, true to the original and with great variations -- to wit, some links to Sisters seen and posted at CurtainUp
TheThree Sisters (Moscow Art Theater/BAM)
The Three Sisters/Chekhov (Roundabout)
The Three Sisters (La Mama)
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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