play twenty five: three sisters

The 2010 Off-Broadway production.
The 2010 Off-Broadway production.

Author: Anton Chekhov

Published: 1901

Translator: Elisaveta Fen

Synopsis: Three sisters – Olga, Masha, and Irena – live with their brother Andrei in a provincial Russian town since their move from Moscow by their father eleven years ago. The locally-stationed battalion of soldiers is the fodder for the love affairs that gradually unfold. The sisters eke out their existence to support their dissolute gambler of a brother and his insufferable wife Natasha, and gradually let go of their dream to return home.

What moved me: this is perhaps the saddest of Chekhov’s plays, if only for the initial presence of hope that is missing in his other work. In the others there is an enduring optimism for future generations to live better than those currently suffering, but here the deep-seated longing to return to Moscow belies an idealism, a belief that things could be perfect now, that is gradually worn away like old costume jewellery.

As was seeded in Ivanov, Chekhov’s control of entry and exit in group scenes, and of the dynamics within the group, is masterful. Act One has fifteen people at any one time onstage and his ability to bind them together with elastic rope such that any one exit/entrance effects a shift in the air is breathtaking.

Also, Natasha. Fuck. What a heinous creature. I’ve never read a play that has made my jaw drop in shock, but she made it happen.

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