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Three Sisters -04/05/2000

at a glance:
Play: Three Sisters, by Anton Chekhov. Translated by Paul Schmidt.
Venue: ISU Allen Theater
Dates: 8 p.m., April 6-8
Cost: General, $12; students and seniors, $6
Creative team: Director Debbie Alley; Scenic Designer Janine Vreatt; Lighting Designer Steve Knuth; Costume Designer Alison Roberts; Sound Designer Aaron Paolucci


When Anton Chekhov wrote “Three Sisters” just about a hundred years ago, he suffused his characters with dashed dreams and disillusionment, a doomed search for meaningful work and a sense of purpose, and a deep desire to leave a legacy for future generations.
Again and again in the play, Chekhov writes of a hope that the future will be better, but an overriding belief that it will be much the same.

“We shall be forgotten,” says oldest sister Olga near the end of the play. “Our faces, our voices, even how many of us there were. But our sufferings will turn to joy for those who live after us.”

You can’t help but watch these frustrated, unhappy people on stage, yearning for something more, settling for less, and wonder whether things have improved a century later.
If the play were written today, would the Three Sisters still watch their lives waste away, pining for Moscow, or would they just pick up and go?

I fear they’d still be stuck in their provincial town. Some things change, but human frailty and disappointment are constants.

The ISU Theatre production of “Three Sisters” emphasizes mood and melancholy, as director Debbie Alley sets a deliberate, languid pace. This is a solid, handsome, respectful production, with each line, each moment, given due care and weight. It’s as if Alley, not unlike the character of Olga, wishes to ensure that the sisters will be remembered.

But when every line sounds weighty and important, few speeches really stand out. And the three-plus hours running time is simply longer than the play needs to be.

Still, there are excellent individual performances.

Among the sisters, middle sister Masha always seems to shine, and this production is no exception. Meghan Falica makes Masha as lovely as she is dissatisfied, performing the role with clarity, elegance, and just a touch of bitterness.

Older sister Olga also gets a good performance from Cheryl Markowitz, who conveys the character’s weary anxiety to good effect. Jennifer Jackson’s Irina is less successful, especially in the second act, where her rhythms and gestures become a bit strained.

As Vershinin, the dashing, desperate military man who sees the spark in Masha, John Manzelli is terrific, creating just the right romantic edge.

Hans Fleischmann is also deft and heartfelt in his characterization of earnest Tuzenbach, one of Irina’s suitors.

Technically, the production is first-rate, with a spare, woody set, complete with bare birch trunks, from Scenic Designer Janine Vreatt, and a warm, golden lighting design from Steve Knuth.

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