THE THREE SISTERSby Anton Chekhov
Adapted by Steven Young
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Directed by Steven Young
Set Design – Jason Morgan
Scenic Design – Lauren Morgan
Lighting Design – Bryan Douglas
Sound Design – Long Ho
Costume Design – Lauren Morgan
Props Design – Jennifer Jeske
Props Artisan – Jean Jeske
Stage Manager – Patrick Bohmier
Olga – Gwen Moores
Masha – Julie Rhodes
Irina – Britnee Scoville
Feodor Kuligin – David Helms
Vershinin – Richard Stubblefield
Natasha – Shannon Garcia
Andrei – Jake Defoore
Baron Tuzenbach – Terry Yates
Vassili Soleni – Robert Twaddell
Chebutikin – Bert Pigg
Rode – Jacob Harris
Fedotik – Blake Hametner
Ferapont – Neil Rogers
Anfisa – Pepper Thompson
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Like Shakespeare, classic Chekhov can be adapted with language updates and new settings. The Three Sisters, playing now as part of the Classic Fest 2017 at Stolen Shakespeare Guild in Fort Worth, was adapted by Director Steven Young to present a classic story of 20th Century family turmoil to 21st Century audiences. Such a production has to be adapted. It was written in Russian, but I didn’t detect any significant departure from the translations I’ve read. So it’s still classical.
The story revolves around the siblings of a prominent Russian family who share a house some distance from Moscow. Each of the three sisters and one brother have dreams of a better tomorrow and each falls to the slow leavening of those dreams. A life of leisure and wealth cannot guarantee tragedies will skip them and even excessive leisure weighs on them. Often famous, powerful, wealthy families disintegrate over time, sometimes tragically. This has been a theme of both Shakespeare and Chekhov. The Three Sisters explores this within a Russian zeitgeist.
The play setting looked to be a good view of the period. The stage floor was a large living room with several acting areas and this could change to a bedroom or an outdoor pavilion. The set was designed by Jason Morgan with scenic design by Lauren Morgan. It functionally allowed for 3-dimensional variation and multiple playing areas with minimal scene change. This speeded up Chekhov’s 4-Act play to two and a half hours, but it could have run much longer. Jennifer Jeske designed props and Jean Jeske was props artisan. One such prop was a Samovar, a traditional Russian tea appliance, which would have been considered a rich gift at the time, but became comic in its presentation. Together this design team created a pretty faithful representation of the Prozorov house, inside and out. Coloring was warm and cozy with a lot of the accoutrements of wealth.
Lighting designer Bryan Douglas provided plenty of bright light to keep the overall mood bright, in spite of somber moods in the characters. It’s comedy after all. Costumes seemed to sparkle a bit in this light. Is that coloring? Sound designer Long Ho provided a number of fairly normal sound effects for the story, but also found some really nice Russian music that evoked the times in preshow.
Lauren Morgan did her usual stellar job of designing ornate costumes, beautiful in many cases that highlighted the characters’ personalities, their station in life, and an atmosphere of wealth and comfort.
The three sisters in this play are Olga, Maria (Masha), and Irina. They represent archetypal characters. Olga is the oldest, the teacher, staid and traditional and steeped in the old ways, and yet an old maid. Masha is a middle daughter, unhappily married, but ready to embrace change, especially if it involves love. Irina is the youngest child, idealistic, enamored with the new Russian worker’s ideals, though not quite ready to give up the aristocracy.
Olga was played by Gwen Moores. Her eldest child sensibilities appeared strong in the beginning, as Olga is matriarch of the family. Moores gave Olga an even-keeled view of the calamities around her and, though fortunes of the family are disintegrating, Moores showed this stoic approach to heartache. Olga’s dream is go to Moscow. However, in time this gives way to despair and resignation as Olga’s power is stripped away by an unwanted newcomer and she must accept job positions she does not want.
Julie Rhodes played Masha as a girl who laments her place in life, though not her leisure time to contemplate and comment on her despair. Most of it is spent in what we would call depression. Her boring marriage gives Masha little to enjoy and Rhodes acted this cynical view of the events around her and resentment completely, maybe too much, as there were several speeches that were mumbled enough to misunderstand the words. Once Vershinin arrives, things change for Masha and Rhodes brought this new energy and view of the world to Masha. Masha’s dreams come to life. Will it last when Vershinin leaves?
Irina is the real dreamer in this family. Idealistic, bright, hopeful and wanting to go to Moscow, she lights up the family. Britnee Scoville is a young actor, full of youthful hope, and was a natural choice for Irina. She gave Irina an innocence, as she tried to convince her family that work was the right way to live, doubting the family’s history of doing nothing productive. Irina is attractive to numerous of the young, and old, soldiers who occupy their land. But one, who is older, unattractive, and more settled is especially after her. Scoville shows Irina walking a line between wanting to be kind to the old friend, but not wanting a relationship. Irina wants nothing of a marriage of convenience. In time, Scoville has to show Irina accommodating the loss of her dreams and dealing with the practical requirements of adulthood. There’s a pretty large transition from young and energetic to reluctantly resign to her fate. Scoville can play it all.
Andrei is the brother of this family. He’s thought to be smart, educated, and ready to set the science world on fire. But Jake Defoore showed him in the beginning as the big oaf he is, reluctant to attribute anything like success to himself. It seems Andrei is a big dreamer with little resolve and the biggest fall. Defoore ran through emotional consequences of Andrei’s bad decisions that devastate the family, but they’re only talked about. Andrea also brings in an outsider who upsets everyone, and in the end has to settle for a life he hates. Dreams die in many ways. Defoore let this simmering resentment and shame seep into every relationship Andrea had and the fall was palpable.
There are ten other characters who help tell this story and each actor is quite good at creating their character in a unique way to make them interesting. Each provided an important bit of the family story, information that helped to explain the backstory. And each had their own emotional arcs to play. In many ways, it’s the minor characters in Chekhov who are the most enjoyable to watch, as the main characters are dealing with their own tragedies.
Shannon Garcia as Natasha showed a great arc from the innocent, uneducated peasant girlfriend of Andrei. We saw Natasha grow over time into a powerful, privileged manager of the house, able to take control over the owners through her cuckold husband. At times, Garcia showed that sickening sweetness of someone who cuts your throat while holding your hand and singings lullabies. She was the evil the whole house hated. Terry Yates as Tuzenbach and Bert Pigg as Chebutikin imbued their characters with a regal military attitude, while seemingly living off the family’s lands. Both of these characters go through great inner turmoil as they’re deeply in love with the family, but powerless to help it survive. Each has moments of crisis that required Yates and Pigg to dig deeply into their emotional tools. Bert Pigg’s drunken scene was a classic of really believable drunkenness, with subtle suggestions of being drunk rather than telling us he was drunk. It was sad and funny at the same time.
I think Neil Rogers’ Ferapont was probably the most enjoyable character to me, mostly because he’s the main comic driver in the play. We needed that. As an old deaf man who serves the town council as janitor, he’s constantly delivering documents to Andrei for signatures. Andrei hates that and spills his troubles to Ferapont. Rogers’ comic timing and deaf reactions drives Andrei crazy and keeps the audience laughing. It’s a question, though, as to how much of Ferapont’s deafness is real or an act to get a rise out of Andrei. Chekhov, like Shakespeare, knew tragic circumstances always come across better with comedy. Rogers gave us this and it was memorable.
There’s a song in Seussical The Musical called Solla Sollew. The characters of Newel and Whoville look to this mythical place of perfection as a wistful wish to be somewhere better, the greener grass. It’s nirvana for some, heaven for others. Moscow is Solla Sollew for the Prozorov family. They long to be anywhere other than where they are and completely miss the heaven around them. That’s a lesson for all of us. Some of us long to “make America great again.” Some long for heaven or wealth or the lottery. Perhaps one lesson of The Three Sisters is to look around and find the things we can appreciate about our own place. Maybe it’s also a statement that dreams that matter are inside us rather than in Solla Sollew.
In any case, visit Shakespeare Guild through the end of the month and step back in time to see The Three Sisters and She Stoops to Conquer at Classic Fest 2017.
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Fort Worth Community Arts Center in the Sanders Theatre
1300 Gendy St., Fort Worth, TX 76107
Runs through October 29th
Saturday, October 28 @ 2:00 P.M.
Saturday, October 28 @ 8:00 P.M.
Sunday, October 29 @ 2:00 P.M.
SSG uses flex ticket pricing. Take advantage of our early bird discounts.
1st Weekend: Adult $18.00 / Senior 65 and up, Student ID, Teacher ID, or Military ID $16.00 / Matinee $16.00
2nd Weekend: Adult $20.00 / Senior 65 and up, Student ID, Teacher ID, or Military ID $18.00 / Matinee $17.00
3rd Weekend: Adult $22.00 / Senior 65 and up, Student ID, Teacher ID, or Military ID $20.00 / Matinee $18.00
Stolen Shakespeare Fest and Classic Fest Price: Adult $18.00 / Senior 65 and up, Student ID, Teacher ID, or Military ID $16.00 / Matinee $16.00
For information and tickets, go to www.stolenshakespeareguild.org or call Theatre Mania at 866-811-4111.