Metrowest Daily News, Three Sisters

By Keith Powers

June 8, 2017

Taking full advantage of Paul Schmidt’s fluidly idiomatic translation, the Wellesley Summer Theatre is staging a snappy, insightful production of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” at the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre on the Wellesley campus.

Directed by Marta Rainer, the large, focused cast takes Chekhov’s drawing-room drama about three sisters and a brother who futilely long to return from the country to their native Moscow, and transforms it into a social battleground full of conniving, shifty, pathetic and angry characters.

Not easy to do when the subject is Russia, circa 1900. And the only real conflict seems to be that three pampered sisters, and the delusional brother they dote on, really don’t want to live in the unnamed countryside town they inhabit, but yearn for glamorous Moscow.

The noted poet Osip Mandelstam saw the work and said, “Give the sisters a railway ticket back to Moscow after Act 1 and the play will be over.” This once, Mandelstam’s insights failed him. Chekhov’s play may seem pedestrian on the surface, but talented players can make this deeply troubled network of extended family and friends come to vigorous life.

Which is exactly what happens here. The sisters – Olga (Caitlin Graham), Masha (Angela Bilkic), and Irina (Zena Chatila) – and their coterie of husbands, suitors, and friends, all have a chance to grow substantially during the course of Chekhov’s four acts. Certainly, they are stuck in a boring existence. They realize it. Some of them break down, succumbing to gambling, drink, or self-pity. But even while they yearn for a better future, they all wrap their developing psyches around the inevitable, and come to some begrudging acceptance of their circumstances.

The brilliance of the play lies first and foremost in character development. But Chekhov’s book, in Schmidt’s remarkably natural translation, is also dotted with subtle reminders of their exiled fate: calendar updates, clocks, broken clocks, anniversaries, mortgages and pocket watches serve as talismans throughout; constant references to migrating birds weave a note of sadness in as well.

Woody Gaul (as the verbose, soldier/dreamer Vershinin), Charles Linshaw (the persistent, self-aware Baron), Daniel Boudreau (the aggressively comic drunk Solyony), John Kinsherf (the sisters’ self-pitying uncle), Shelley Bolman (Masha’s dreary but generous cuckolded husband), and Samuel L. Warton (Andrei, the sisters’ underachieving sibling) all support the trio magnificently.

and unrelentingly cruel, splendidly inhabits the pivotal role of sister-in-law, trampling Andrei and gradually pushing the sisters out of their own house. The minor characters, other soldiers and house servants, also seemed torn directly from Chekhov’s own wish-list cast.

The sets (David Towlun), were simple but stylish, and the costumes (Emily Woods Hogue), period but not uncomfortably archaic. Both served the players well.

Rainer’s direction played a huge part in making this work so well. Introductory (and concluding) Russian folk dances and music eased the transition to 1900; her frequent ploy of setting a pair of players upstage, speaking together, unnoticed by the ensemble at the back of the stage, helped the action and audience understanding.

When characters bristle with life, even if their concerns seem dated or trivial, audiences can relate. These “Three Sisters” are worth seeing in action.