Three Sisters

  • Our critic's rating:
    February 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall
    (5 Feb 2011)

    There is so much that is grand and good about this production that it made me realize how much of Chekov I have overlooked in the past.

    This is the story of a set of sad sisters. The Russians don’t concern them selves so much with why a situation is so, merely that it is. We meet them mid-stride in their misery, long after they have begun to treat their condition as a subject of study. These sisters are pathologists.

    The family has been exiled to a town outside of Moscow. Where does not matter, only that it is not Moscow for which the sisters yearn in the same way a cat craves raw meat. She may not appear to be thinking about it at all, but should you offer her a chunk, she will snatch it from your hand faster than you can think and not hesitate to take a few fingers with it.

    Masha (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is marred to a dull, moist man, Kulygin (Paul Lazar) who give the impression that he is accompanied by the odor of wet wool wherever he goes. Olga (Jessica Hecht) is an almost translucent figure in the house, so located is she in the past where their father was a man of means as well as respect, and their parents gave them a life of some luxury and learning. The third sister, Irina (Juliet Rylance) speaks boldly of the Moscow that is nearly audible to her, and she would be willing to do nearly anything just to get out of where she lives – including marrying without passion. Their only brother, Andrey (Josh Hamilton) has forgotten all about Moscow and traded in the memory for a position of little merit on the local council along with a wife Natasha (Marin Ireland) who is a tyrant in training.

    In this production and using the contemporary quality of the Schmidt’s translation to its best advantage, Austin Pendleton drops us straight down into the cool quiet muck of the still pond that is this family’s life. No matter the turmoil, nothing appears to change the landscape. Even the arrival of an officer stationed in the town, Vershinin (Peter Sarsgaard) barely registers a ripple on the surface. But the depth of his reach is deeper that even he realizes. Things change dramatically and remain the same. Convolution at its finest!

    The splendid set and costumes, the murky light and Pendleton’s staging serve to bring us in to this world (even the floorboards extend into the audience) in so intimate a fashion that we are swept into the sisters’ constant yearning to understand their own stagnation. They fight against it with a sporadic vigor that is shattering. Each of them rears like a whale breaching the surface of the ocean, and each crash over and over again back into the black water. With each surge we rise with them, and with each fall we feel the weight tugging at our own spirits.

    This Three Sisters reaches past the confines of the stage in a way that Chekhov rarely does. This is not a staid formal exercise in formality. These women have hearts that beat strong and loud. No matter the sadness, there is life. There may never be understanding, but there will always be life. Paradox as paradigm!

    Well done.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "Wonderfully fresh and affecting."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "Mostly sturdy and satisfying."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "Renders idleness and boredom a bit too realistically."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "The spark of life ... is mostly absent."
    Jeremy Gerard for Bloomberg

    "Uneven 'Three Sisters.'"
    David Sheward for Back Stage

    "In few instances, though, of the Chekhovs I've seen, has the result been as seductive and enveloping as the CSC's triumphant production "
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "Exceptionally sensitive production."
    David Cote for Time Out NY

    "Staged thoughtfully by Pendleton with sensitive, subtle detail and a very fine cast."
    Michael Summers for Newsroom Jersey

    "Under Pendleton's tightly focused helming, all that yearning after inappropriate lovers and unattainable dreams is palpable, both on the stage and in the air."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

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