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PlayMakers’ Three Sisters Is Chekhov at His Best

The Three Sisters cast (from left) includes Arielle Yoder, Allison Altman, and Marinda Anderson as Masha, Irina, and Olga Prozorova and Joshua David Robinson as Aleksander Vershinin (photo by Jon Gardiner)

The Three Sisters cast (from left) includes Arielle Yoder, Allison Altman, and Marinda Anderson as Masha, Irina, and Olga Prozorova and Joshua David Robinson as Aleksander Vershinin (photo by Jon Gardiner)

It would be so easy to do a bad job of producing Chekhov. In the wrong hands, these characters might seem silly; they might seem like two-dimensional “types”; they might even seem like exaggerated grotesques. At a bad performance, we would have found these characters uninteresting — their hopes and dreams, their problems, and their fates would not have engaged our attention.

Fortunately, this was not the case at PlayMakers Repertory Company’s performance of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters. New PRC producing artistic director Vivienne Benesch masterfully directs Libby Appel’s new translation. The pace is brisk, without ever seeming hurried. Each interaction in every scene engaged us enough so that we could grasp and digest its significance; and then the action moved on to another interaction, never dwelling too long, but always giving us a chance for a bit of contemplation.

Chekhov’s story centers on three sisters who are excited about the possibilities of a future in which they hope to regain their past. A year after their father’s death, they fervently imagine themselves moving back to Moscow, back to an urban lifestyle that they found much more suitable than the one they have endured for 10 years in a rural village. Indeed, their most important social contacts have been with soldiers who are now about to be transferred.

The “action” of the play is conveyed aurally. Through the dialogue, we learn about various characters’ contemplations of the meaning of life, how to live their lives, how to find happiness and fulfillment.

All of the acting is superb! Every character is realistically drawn, and all of the interpersonal relationships are authentic.

Allison Altman and Ray Dooley star as Irina Prozorova and Ivan Chebutykinin Three Sisters (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Allison Altman and Ray Dooley star as Irina Prozorova and Ivan Chebutykinin (photo by Jon Gardiner)

As the action opens, the youngest sister (the 20-year-old Irina, played by Allison Altman) is sprawled on her back, engaged in optimistic daydreaming. Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Masha (Arielle Yoder) sits in an easy chair, reading; and 28-year-old schoolteacher Olga (Marinda Anderson) is at the table with pen and paper, working on something. These activities, along with their sisters’ choices of attire, serve as character notes.

The family also includes Masha’s husband Kulygin (Daniel Pearce), the sisters’ brother Andrei (Benjamin Curns), and Andrei’s wife Natalya (Carey Cox). The family chemistry is intense and real, as are the relationships with the various soldiers and peasants who come and go. It is very easy to dream along with these characters, to feel with them.

Alexis Distler’s set is striking. The thrust stage of the Paul Green Theatre gives us a cutaway view of the interior of the house owned by the sisters and their brother. It conveys rural Russia and upper-middle-class Russia at the end of the 19th century. The choice of the various angles of the floor boards and the gaps in the upstage wall help make the stage-picture interesting as well as authentic.

Peter West’s lighting smoothly and subtly redirects our attention to the shifting focal points onstage while also enhancing the changing moods. Another excellent directorial choice is placing cellist Isabel Castellvi in an “attic” at the back of the stage, playing original music by Ari Picker. The soulful, often mournful music contributed to the feeling of the scenes. Castellvi’s playing often had to blend with additional music chosen and engineered by Maria Wurttele.

Tracey Christensen has designed costumes that are elegant and authentic. The social standing of each character is easily intuited.

Human literature is inundated with threesomes — from the three little pigs of a children’s tale, to the Christian Trinity, to the three “weird sisters” in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Frequently, these threesomes serve as vehicles of instruction and contemplation, as well as entertainment. This production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters is no exception.

Joshua David Robinson and Arielle Yoder star as Aleksander Vershinin and Maria (Masha) Prozorova

Joshua David Robinson and Arielle Yoder star as Aleksander Ignatyevich Vershinin and Maria (Masha) Sergeyevna Prozorova in Three Sisters (photo by Jon Gardiner)

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 28th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7795; Jan. 27th New York, NY American Theatre interview with director Vivienne Benesch, conducted by Jackson Cooper: http://www.americantheatre.org/2016/01/27/vivienne-benesch-is-looking-for-transformation/; Jan. 27th Durham, NC Five Points Star review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://thefivepointsstar.com/2016/01/27/prcs-nuanced-new-version-of-three-sisters-ennui-on-stage-but-not-in-the-audience/; Jan. 27th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article56843643.html and Jan. 16th profile of director Vivienne Benesch by David Menconi: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article54874455.html; Jan. 20th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/three-sisters/Event?oid=4803374 and Dec. 16th interview with director Vivienne Benesch, conducted by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/vivienne-benesch-the-new-artistic-director-of-playmakers-wants-to-break-down-its-reclusive-reputation/Content?oid=4946408; Jan. 15th Chapel Hill, NC Chapelboro.com interview with director Vivienne Benesch, conducted by Aaron Keck : http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/three-sisters-arrive-at-playmakers-say-theyll-reach-moscow-soon. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 20th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/01/vivienne-benesch-is-directing-a-new-version-of-anton-chekhovs-three-sisters-for-playmakers-rep/.)

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents THREE SISTERS at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30, 2 p.m. Jan. 31, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2-6, and 2 p.m. Feb. 7 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15 and up ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel, except $15 (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances.

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/single.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), prcgroups@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.

SHOW: http://playmakersrep.org/show/three-sisters/.

PRC NEWS RELEASE: https://www.playmakersrep.org/press/playmakers-presents-chekhovs-three-sisters-starting-jan-20/.

PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.

PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

VENUE: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/paulgreen.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30th (for more information, click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption).

NOTE 3: There will be a FREE post-show discussion with members of the creative team following the show’s 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31st, performance.

NOTE 4: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussion — led by Raleigh psychiatrist Peter Buonaccorsi, MD — after the 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7th, performances.

OTHER LINKS:

Three Sisters (Tri sestry) (1901 domestic drama): http://www.britannica.com/topic/Three-Sisters-play-by-Chekhov (Encyclopædia Britannica) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Sisters_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).

Anton Chekhov (Russian physician, playwright, and short story writer, 1860-1904): http://www.britannica.com/biography/Anton-Chekhov (Encyclopædia Britannica) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_Chekhov (Wikipedia).

Three Sisters (2011 translation): http://www.chekhovplays.com/three_sisters.html (Chekhov Plays).

Libby Appel (Santa Barbara, CA adapter): http://www.chekhovplays.com/Libby_Appel.html (Chekhov Plays), https://www.facebook.com/libbyeveappel (Facebook page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libby_Appel (Wikipedia).

Vivienne Benesch (director and PlayMakers Repertory Company producing artistic director): http://playmakersrep.org/artists/vivienne-benesch/ (PlayMakers Rep bio) and https://www.facebook.com/vivienne.benesch (Facebook page).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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