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Three Sisters by Porchlight Theatre

In porchlight on July 10, 2009 at 2:13 am

THREE SISTERS In the four major plays he left us, Anton Chekhov didn’t invite us into just one main character’s life or one small story, as most playwrights do, but into an all-encompassing world in which every person — from a baron to a servant — is both significant and ridiculous, capable of momentary insight and damning illusion.

Chekhov is not about story and not about plot.  He takes a panoramic vision of human experience and keeps moving the focus around.

To do Chekhov right, you need a uniformly stellar cast and a director who knows how to manage it, keeping egos in check while drawing moments of splendor from every actor. Done well, Chekhov — and especially “Three Sisters” — is a string of pearls we watch turn ivory with age, darkening into the timeworn beauty that is life.

Director Susannah Martin staging of Chekhov’s world is exactly that. From casting to tempo to costuming and set, this production gleams and deepens over its four acts, taking us from sunlight into candlelight and shadows, where Chekhov’s cruelly candid yet compassionate vision of humanity rests.

On a simple platform with a wonderful moveable structure, Julia McNeal, Thais Harris and Tara Blau do more than shrewdly animate and differentiate the title sisters, for whom a move to Moscow symbolizes the hoped-for return to a more genteel and happier life. Aided only by Rebecca Redmond’s decorous re-creations of period dress and Steve Deckers’ wonderful set, and suggestive lighting shifts, they bring to life the whole doomed estate and provincial town in which the sisters feel marooned.

McNeal disappears so completely into the dutiful and unwed oldest sister, Olga, it would be easy to overlook her subtle, brilliant performance, especially beside Blau’s passionate portrayal of the brooding middle sister, Masha, and Harris’s convincing swings between effervescence and wearied petulance as the youngest, Irina.

The compromise and regret the sisters come to is revealed most clearly in Masha’s blind flirtation with the battery commander Vershinin (Nick Sholley) and her disdain for her husband, Kulygin, a toady schoolteacher she once thought the cleverest of men (played with a delightful mix of misplaced haughtiness and sniveling ingratiation by Ryan O’Donnell). But it is Irina’s descent over time that drives the universal dagger home.

The part of Chekhov’s genius that translator Paul Schmidt understands the best is Chekhov’s use of an ensemble to add shadings to universal truths: the sisters’ dissipated brother, Andrey (Job Wesley Burnett), and his up-from-nothing, queen-bee wife, Natasha (Rebecca Castelli in a marvelously imperious performance); the talented but aimless baron Tusenbach (Craig Neibaur) and his odd, hotheaded friend Solyony (Michael Barr); two servants (Don Wood and Candance Brown); two soldiers (Lowell Weller and Jarrod Quon); and a cynical old doctor (John Mercer).

In the end, in Chekhov’s world, even the dream is a threadbare illusion masking a waning determination to persevere in search of meaning.

Three Sisters

When: 7:00 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays; June 20th through July 11

(No show on July 4th Industry Night Show on Monday July 6th.)

 

Where: Porchlight Theater, Marin Art & Garden Center,

30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Ross, CA

 

Tickets: $20

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