by Anton Chekhov
Adapted by Tracy Letts
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Toska, a Russian word sometimes translated as nostalgia, yearning, heartsickness, or, in Nabokov’s words, “a gnawing mental ache, that manifests itself in Three Sisters in its characters’ attempts to consume, fill, or traverse the void around them.
In a most astonishing production, director Anna D. Shapiro and adapter Tracey Letts have presented Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters deeply in its essence. They got their magnificent cast to eek out the play’s “Toska” -its nostalgia for dreamed life- of a life that never was nor ever will be. Three Sisters is about a certain kind of paralysis that finds the characters visualizing a future happy life that keeps them immobilized in the here and now. Filled with unhappy marriages, unrequited love, duels and a yearning to return to Moscow, Three Sisters is about everyone trying to get to somewhere else in the hopes of finding happiness. The play is bothy sad and funny demonstrating how the human condition’s folly can be humorous as well as poignant.
The Prozorov family; Olga (Ora Jones), Masha (Carrie Coon), and Irina (Caroline Neff) with brother Andrey (Dan Waller) all chafe at the constraints of life in their small provincial Russian town, once a bustling army garrison where their late father served as general. Attempts to shore up their crumbling social status lay bare the larger forces of unrest that will soon engulf them all. When Lieutenant-Colonel Vershinin (John Judd) arrives from Moscow, the sisters yearn more for Moscow than ever. Natasha (Alana Arenas) eventually marries Audrey and she takes over the running of the household so bristly that the sisters struggle to hold on. We see young Irina warm to Baron Tusenbach (Derek Gaspar) while Vershhinin pines for Masha who is already in a loveless marriage to school teacher Fyodor Kulygin (Yasen Peyankov). The aging doctor Chebutykin (Scott Jaeck) is an eccentric who once loved the sister’s mother. He suffers a breakdown.
The play is about the decline of the ruling class in early 20th Century Russia as they struggle to find meaning in a rapidly changing world. Frustration with their present lives and fear of change dominate. The cast led by Ora Jones as Olga with strong work by Scott Jaeck’s, John Judd and Derek Gsspar gave humanity and venerability to the characters. The tone of nostalgia permeates as the quiet desperation for happiness that eludes these folks casts a dark shadow on their lives. This production deeply gets to the core of Chekhov’s understanding of “Toska.” Three Sisters is a sweeping panorama of gentry life filled with well spoken characters deftly played by a superb cast. Chekhov’s themes are marvelously presented in a subtle yet powerful work. Kudos to Letts and Shapiro for mounting such a fine theatre piece. Chekhov would approve of this production.
Date Reviewed: July 7, 2012
For more info checkout the Three Sisters page at theatreinchicago.com
At Steppenwolf theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, www.steppenwolftheatre.org. call 312-335-1650, tickets $20 – $75, Tuesdays thur Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesday matinees at 2 pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through August 29, 2012