“Three Sisters” by Anton Chekhov at ACT

“It’s all awful. . . . How are we going to live through our lives, what is to become of us?” Oh, if only those three unhappy sisters could move to Moscow, life would be so much better, or so they think. As Chekhov unreels their existential angst in this play, he creates a world between hope and despair.

Director John Langs decided to mount this production of one of the Russian’s three greatest plays with a modern minimalism. On the grey stage sits a long grey table, a grey bench and grey chairs, all simple wood pieces lacking ornamentation of any kind. At various angles, stretching to the rafters are poles, mottled in the manner of birch trees.

The action begins as a single drum bangs slowly and the three sisters, followed by men in the red and blue of 19th C military attire, solemnly enter this spare setting. Only then is there dialog, and it prophetically addresses the longing for Moscow and the life of the past.

Seagull Project--Three Sisters  361 (c) Chris Bennion

Masha (Alexandra Tavares), Irina (Sydney Andrews) and Olga (Julie Briskman), the Three Sisters Photo by Chris Bennion

This is a play about ambitions thwarted, unrequited love, and lives, as some say, eroding away like rusting iron, flaking off, bit by bit. Each of the sisters has unfulfilled dreams as does their brother whose foolish mistakes impact them all. But Chekhov’s underlying message seems to be that we drag our unhappiness with us. Future? Past? Will there be any difference? It is hope that makes life worthwhile, that allows us to endure.

In this production consummate actresses play the three sisters who have such difficulty internalizing this lesson. They share unhappy lives but represent different personality types facing different varieties of unhappiness. Olga (Julie Briskman) really doesn’t want the job she has. Masha (Alexandra Tavares) doesn’t want the husband she has, and Irina (Sydney Andrews) just doesn’t want the life she has. I liked the fact that these women and their hapless brother were dressed in modern attire. Chekhov’s issues are as pertinent today as they were in the late 19th C.

Chekhov is, of course, one of the western world’s greatest playwrights, and we Seattleites should rejoice in the opportunity to see such a stunning production But be warned: this is intellectually challenging, and if you aren’t familiar with the play, consider looking it up on the Internet before you go. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

Through Feb. 8 at Act Contemporary Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org)

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