A well-crafted Chekhov at the Vaudeville Theatre, Maly Drama Theatre’s Three Sisters will delight purists but may alienate those less familiar with the text and dramatist.
Maly Drama Theatre’s production of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters opens on an almost bare stage. Except, that is, for the enormous house that looms over the characters throughout – moving increasingly close to the edge of the Vaudeville Theatre’s stage with the passing of each of the five Acts to build an ever greater sense of claustrophobia.
The three sisters in question – Masha, Irina and Olga – are wonderfully well cast (Ksenia Rappoport, Ekaterina Tarasova and Irina Tychinina respectively) and supported by a strong ensemble. All are truly immersed in the piece and bring a striking naturalism to the drama, and Lev Dodin’s direction lends an easy artfulness to the staging with a lightness of touch. There’s lots of characters posing beautifully in windows but we never lose the sense of realism.
There are the usual tropes and motifs to be found in Chekhov: doctors, women dressed in black, a sort of hopeless but comedic countryside ennui, and misguided and unrequited love. Many of us can relate to these themes of thwarted dreams, but some may find the play’s ending less than satisfying.
This was the first time I’d seen Three Sisters, and I hadn’t read the play either. Those in the same boat may want to read a synopsis beforehand, as due to the placement of the (rather too literal for my tastes) surtitles, I found the play a little difficult to follow at times as the text wasn’t in my eye-line while I watched the actors. Had I been familiar with the play already, or had it been performed in English, I personally may have taken more away from the evening. Chekhov purists, particularly those wanting to see the play performed in the playwright’s mother tongue, will, I’m sure, be delighted. This is a classic case of a “well made play” done well; everything is beautifully crafted. But if you’re looking for a directorial spin on a classic text, this perhaps isn’t the production for you.