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Tuesday, March 5

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« Art Around Town Overheard Illustrated: "Metaphor" »

Theater Fri Jul 20 2012

Three Sisters: An Eternal Existential Quagmire @ Steppenwolf


Usman Ally, Caroline Neff, Ora Jones, and Carrie Coon; photo by Michael Brosilow

"And you may ask yourself, how did I get here?" wailed David Byrne, while Stephen King penned, "Wherever you went, there you were." Checkov's love/loathing -in-the-time-of-war Three Sisters makes King's philosophical prose the appropriate answer to Byrne's lament.

It's the Prozorov family -- sisters Olga (Ora Jones), Masha (Carrie Coon), Irina (Caroline Neff) and brother Andrey (Dan Waller) -- sharing the large country estate inherited from their late parents. Easy as it is to settle into home at the Prozorov's -- the army's officers make it their headquarters, the Prozorov's late mother's former lover and family/army physician Dr. Cherbutykin (Scott Jaeck), seems determined to live out his last days at the estate swath in the sullen memories of the lover that goes (not so far) away -- the estate is emotional vacuum that sucks the joy from almost every resident and replaces that regret, lament, unrelenting grief and in some spirits, a homicidal urgency.

The Prozorovs are dirt rich, with plenty of land and house, and a houseful of artifacts, plenty of furniture to hide behind or trip over -- but money was not part of the bargain, and to keep up the homestead and their social order, the adult children take to careers; Olga, the oldest, enjoys her teaching assignment, but longs for a return to Moscow, with her younger sister and job-jumper Irina, where the grass was allegedly greener and sun shone brighter, even during the harshest of winters. Olga is a spinster, who sacrificed her biological clock to care for her dying parents and orphaned siblings. If she were "still worth having, (she'd) marry the first man that asked," Olga declares as if she were standing in line at customs.

Youngest sister Irina is a wee bit of a slacker, having taken to accepting jobs she considers beneath her station, but not particularly versed in any real or particular skill set, Irina sees her life as not worth living if she can't live it in Moscow. Realizing that she may never return to Moscow with the assistance of Olga, she realizes her escape from the family homestead may come in the form of marriage proposal to the Baron Tuzenbach -- not the most attractive fellow, but he cares deeply for Irina, and he's accepted a position of importance in a neighboring city -- not Moscow, but not the small town dregs that suffocate Irina.

Masha is the unhappiest of the siblings, only finding solace in her affair with Lieutenant-Colonel Vershinin (John Judd), as her haplessly attentive and much older husband Fyodor (Yasen Peyankov) does everything in his power to assuage Masha's unspoken grief, even after her affair is revealed to Cherbutykin during an epic existential breakdown which covers the matter of his undying love for the siblings' mother and maltreatment of past patients. While the others mete out their general unhappiness, Fyodor remains absolute in his insistence on his satisfaction with his life choices, including the choice to remain steadfast to Masha even as he confesses to Olga that he knows that he and Olga would have made for a proper and content married couple.

Brother Andrey yearns for a family of his own, and takes a wife in initially sweet Natasha (Alana Arenas), who earns Olga's trust and support for the engagement to her brother, but within the year supplants Olga as mistress of the manor and consigns the sisters to shared living space to make room for Andrey and Natasha's growing family and upper-middle class desires. As Natasha pushes their extended family to the sidelines, including lobbying for family maid Anfisa (Mary Ann Thebus) to be forcefully retired and returned to her war-torn village, Andrey slips into gambling addiction and marital malaise. Natasha and their children terrify him, and yet he admits that life is better connected to a wife he mistrusts and loathes than to be rudderless and longing for places he will never return to.

It is not the war right outside the Prozorov estate that changes the life's course of the family and their guests, but interpersonal and intimate selections that are made and dismantled, challenged and resolved -- the war at home and within themselves is what makes for their points of no return.

Deft story adaptation by Tracy Lett's and direction by Anna D. Shapiro finely manages the large ensemble at a precision pace of Chekhov's masterpiece, first published in 1901, as familiar telling in which those blessed with the gift of mobility are self-cursed in an eternal existential quagmire in a tale as known now as it was then.

Three Sisters plays through August 26 at Steppenwolf Theatre. Tickets and information here.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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