After losing their first weekend to the blizzard Jonas, PlayMakers Repertory Company opened their sterling performance of Three Sisters on Tuesday night. Directed by PRC's newly-appointed Producing Artistic Director, Vivienne Benesch, Three Sisters immerses us in the lives of the Prozorov family, particularly sisters Olga, Masha, and Irina. Watching the sprawling drama of Russian aristocratic life puts in mind Allan Saunders' popular quote, "Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans."
Eleven years ago, the family moved from Moscow to a tiny Russian town so their father, a brigadier general, could take command of a provincial artillery unit. Despite the fact that he died a year ago, the family remains ensconced in the trappings of military life, complete with their husbands and wives, servants, military acquaintances, and, most of all, their yearnings. These yearnings are what color everything that happens in this small Russian town, far away from the family's beloved Moscow, while five years slip by.
Olga (Marinda Anderson), the eldest sister, is a teacher who tries to bring light into the lives of her family and, most especially, her sisters. Masha (Arielle Yoder) is the middle sister, and the only one who is married. Their youngest sister, Irina (Allison Altman), is only twenty as the play opens, and it is she who most vociferously yearns to be back in Moscow, the hub of where things happen. These three share this sprawling home with their brother Andrei (Benjamin Curns), a scholar, and later with Natalya (Carey Cox), his wife, and their growing family.
Populating their lives is the battalion of soldiers from their father's company, led by lieutenant colonel Aleksander Vershinin (Joshua David Robinson). Aleksander is quiet and well-spoken, and leaves Masha in particular smitten by his presence.
The household supports a number of soldiers who flit in and out of the house as if it were a part of the military base. Included in their number is the old military doctor Ivan Chebutykin (Ray Dooley) and several young soldiers, including a young baron, Nikolai Tuzenbakh (Daniel Bailin), who falls in love with Irina.
PRC presents Three Sisters with a cast of twenty, which includes in their number a live cellist, Isabel Castellvi, placed directly upstage in her own huge cubicle looking out over the massive, multi-level set designed by Alexis Distler. The addition of this musician is a masterstroke of translator Libby Appel, who gives us a fresh and dynamic translation that brings these characters to vivid life. Adding to our enjoyment is the excellent use of period dress, designed by Tracy Christensen, which serves to center us in the time, a century ago.
This ensemble cast worked together to present a composite of life in this provincial time, showing how each character is marked by time and events and how these sisters grow over the space of five years.
If asked, the sisters would reply that "nothing ever happens," and that they themselves are unchanged by this short passage of time. In fact, they are greatly changed, and must constantly re-balance their lives with those of their family. Yoder as Masha displayed this transformation more beautifully and effectively than any other. We could see time and pressure carve out the character of Masha as Yoder magnificently shaped her character's actions to engage a lover, watch the stringent bindings of military life encase their lives, and passionately live a life that is as much her own as her family and her time will allow. Yoder performed the brooding Masha with a terrible grace.
PRC and a magnificent ensemble cast have taken Chekhov's major work and made it their own, adding layers of character and time, and creating a world that was dying even as it lived. This cast transported us to a time that, while it should seem strange and distant, was in fact both familiar and relevant. A beautiful tapestry of characters was woven together with an existential brush that PRC handled superbly; the company presented the play with infectious vitality and panache. Three Sisters has opened PRC's 2016 with a wondrous escape into another time, and we could not help but be captivated.
Three Sisters continues through Sunday, February 7. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.