This is a MUST SEE now onstage only through Sunday 3/6: a breathtaking, translucent production of Chekhov’s THREE SISTERS in Russian that was so staggeringly beautiful, vibrant, and accessible that I apprehended every word, every nuance. And I don’t speak Russian.
Rarely have I seen a production of a classic piece of theater that was so true to the intentions of its author. ArtsEmerson has brought us direct from Russia the Maly Drama Theatre’s THREE SISTERS in its original language. From the opening tableau director Lev Dodin gives us the three Prosorov sisters in various stages of emotional, psychic, and spiritual starvation, living their cultured, but unfulfilled lives in a provincial town on the cusp of social upheaval. Sounds like a laugh riot, no? No– and yes. Somehow this production captures the rueful energy that allows these characters to continue to live — they must–though nothing changes, and no one knows anything. They laugh and cry despite their fruitless yearnings and dreams of escape to Moscow.
Olga (Tychinina Irina) the oldest sister is a teacher who would have married any man who asked and wears her resignation in every crevice of her elegant and aging face. The youngest sister Irina (Boyarskaya Elizaveta) is a beauty and longs for something that would give her life meaning: true love and work–which she also romanticizes. The play opens on her naming day but a pall hangs over it as their father died on this day one year ago.
Middle sister Masha is an artist and is locked in a tepid marriage to the foolish but kind and loyal teacher (and Chekhov stand in) Kuligin. Rappoport Ksenia as Masha is a revelation and fills the stage with a passionate restlessness that sweeps us up; with her halo of unruly hair, and her eyes on fire, she appears almost mad with frustration and pent up sensuality. I, of course never saw the divine Sarah Bernhardt perform, but this is the brilliant intensity I imagine her to have channeled.
The actors almost seem to turn themselves inside out onstage, their inner lives are so available and played directly to us, often downstage spilling out of the darkness and right into the audience. Not a lot externally “happens,” but their tumultuous inner lives erupt through a meticulously composed surface of neutrals: black, white, cream, and gray as the windows of the family home frame them up like old photographs. Throughout the play they often they freeze for a picture, a fleeting moment captured in time; it is funny and sad. Eventually we see them increasingly boxed in as the front facade of the house moves further and further downstage at the beginning of each act, pushing them out. The coarse Natasha, wife of spoiled, baby-fatted little brother Andrey, eventually rules the roost, and pushes them out for good.
I was transfixed for over three hours. If you are alive, you will be too. See THREE SISTERS only through Sunday March 6 in Russian with English surtitles at the Cutler Majestic