Mitchell Theatre in UW Vilas Hall, through March 17
One early critic of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters called it 'a drab document of futility and discontent.' But more than a century after opening night, it's an acknowledged theater classic. Playwrights like Tennessee Williams and Samuel Beckett credit Chekhov as a major influence, and Sisters is always in production somewhere. Good reasons for Three Sisters' continued appeal are evident in University Theatre's engaging production at Mitchell Theatre.
The four-act play is set in a provincial town in Russia in 1900, at a time when society seemed about to enter an enlightened epoch. The Czar has freed the serfs, and there's a climate of social revolution.
The Prozorov sisters ' sensible Olga (Olivia Dawson), moody Masha (Leia Espericueta) and beautiful, flighty Irina (Vera Varlamov) ' long to return to Moscow, where they are sure their lives will have more meaning. They are young, well educated and full of flimsy ideas about the nobility of 'work.' Officers from a nearby army garrison frequently visit their gracious house to flirt and talk endlessly about their hopes for the future ' so full of promise.
Beyond Sylviane Jacobsen's charming drawing-room set we see a fence-like row of stylized trees suggesting the Prozorov's isolation. As one by one their airy dreams are compromised, the trees come down and Chekhov reveals the strength and weakness of each of his characters.
It's here that director James Bohnen's sensitive casting makes sparks fly. The sisters all give vivid, compelling performances, often matched by others in the cast. Jeff Godsey is particularly fine as the tenderly ridiculous Kulygin, Masha's cuckolded husband. David Wilson-Brown plays Masha's lover, Vershinin, with poetic elegance, and Josh Krevsky's cruel Solyony seems to stalk whenever he moves. Jesse Michael Mothershed is the hapless aristocrat Andrei, the Prozorov's brother who gambles ruinously and marries a village girl, the vindictive Natasha, played with spiky relish by Katheryn Bilbo.
In the end the sisters realize they'll never return to Moscow, Vershinin's brigade leaves for Poland, and Natasha elbows the sisters out of their house. But in spite of all their disappointments, the sisters find themselves ' somewhat to their surprise ' hopeful and resilient. Unlike Dr. Chebutykin (Andy Rice), the gloomy perennial household guest whose stock response to everything is 'It doesn't matter,' the sisters hope that 'Someday everyone will know what all of this is about.'
Will we know someday? Or does it matter? Chekhov continues to engage us.