There was a moment during the third scene of the Harriet Power directed Three Sisters when actor David Whalen as Vershinin is delivering a monologue that was probably no more than four minutes. But in that time, I seriously could not take my eyes off him. He was commanding, he was convincing, he was believable and sympathetic. When silence descended and he walked stage left, I blinked in surprise to discover other people on stage. I had forgotten they were there! Talk about an immersing performance!
It was a true highlight moment in a play full of them. There was the humorous first act, where Jonathan Visser as Solyony and Leo Marks as Tuzenbach really showed their timing. They had a great camaraderie, which gave the second half of the play its payoff. And Joe Domencic as Kulygin supplied an extra current of energy to every scene he was in. No stranger to charming roles, he really nailed the rhythm and tone of his seemingly easy-going, smiles-about-everything character. But by the end of the play, I was pleasantly surprised with how complex his character had become and how much Joe had invested in that turn of mood and motivation. And Christian Conn was sublime as Andrei. His voice was clear as a ringing bell in the intimate Henry Hayman Theatre and it sent chills up my spine at several points in the play. His monologue about life and dreams and how easy it is to miss your opportunity was particularly painful (in a good way) to listen to.
As for the title characters, Nike Doukas as Olga, Allison McLemore as Masha, and Vera Varlamov as Irina were a pure treasure. Kudos to casting. Not only did they look as if they were real sisters – the same brown hair, porcelain skin,, slender builds and pretty eyes – they had wonderful chemistry. You could sense the trust in the room with them. Each sister had their own storylines and I must admit, Allison’s was my favorite. As a married woman (to Domencic’s Kulygin), she falls passionately in love with Whalen’s Vershinin. All sorts of emotional fireworks ensure. There’s laughter, secret caresses, yelling, tears, intimate looks of longing. My favorite kind of romance!!
And I can’t forget to call out Megan McDermott as Natasha. Brief though her stage time was, she was wonderfully horrible and I loved every line she spoke. Each word was a little bee sting, a jab, and then a full out assault. She was marvelous.
As for the writing, well…what can I say? Chekhov is a master and no words are wasted with him. Each one is important, each one builds to the next. The first and second act take place in the sisters’ downstairs, the third in their bedroom, the fourth on a back patio. (Set design, by the way, was very prettily done.) The show is about 2.5 hours long and I didn’t even feel it. Like I said, it flowed pretty easy.
Final word: Don’t be scared of this classic play. I know sometimes, like classical music, it can scare some people off. They may think it’s too dated or irrelevant or, worst of all, boring. Three Sisters is NONE of those things! The thoughts and themes of the play are more relevant than ever. There’s love, class distinction, family values and growing older. This play highlights them all and the actors make it impossible to ever be bored. Plus, because it is shown in the Henry Hayman Theatre, there truly is no bad seat in the house.
**Feature photo by Suellen Fitzsimmons.