Chicago Theatre Review
With an Eye Toward Moscow
Three Sisters – The Hypocrites
Anton Chekov’s classic turn-of-the-century pastoral comedy tells about a trio of sisters and their brother Andrei, now sharing the familyhouse in a small, country village. The women live their mundane lives, continually dreaming about returning to the sophistication of Moscow, where the entire family once lived together. With their parents no longer living, Olga, the eldest sister and a school teacher, now serves as the family matriarch. The middle sister, Masha, has been married for seven years to the school’s aggravatingly affable Latin instructor, but is secretly in love with another married man. The youngest sister, Irina, has several suitors, including many of the soldiers who often gather at the Prozorov family home for dinners and parties. One of them is a socially misfit Staff Captain; another is a less handsome, but older and kinder Baron. However, despite the attentions of these men, Irina, like her sisters, envisions moving back to Moscow where she’ll find true love in the big city.
This production, with its modern touches, is both adapted and directed with dignity and spirit by Geoff Button. Staged in the round, William Boles’ scenic design is understandably sparse, a series of ever-changing rooms surrounded by a forest of towering birch trees, which rise throughout the audience. Against the better judgment of his sisters, Andrei marries Natasha, a social climbing town girl, whose sense of fashion is the subject of jokes. But as Natasha’s greedy influence grows and she becomes more possessive, eventually taking over the house and grounds, the green of her ridiculed sash in Act I begins taking over Mr. Boles’ set. The house’s rich burgundy carpeting is gradually stripped away, piece by piece, revealing Natasha’s garish green flooring beneath. By the end of the play, even many of Jeremy W. Floyd’s detailed turn-of-the-century costumes have turned from claret to chartreuse, indicating how Natasha’s influence has grown beyond the family’s control.
The production features a strong cast, led by Mary Williamson as a stalwart, but beautiful, Olga. She’s supported by Lindsey Gavel’s quiet, lovely, artistic Masha and Hilary Williams’ petite, radiant, optimistic Irina. All three sisters, in these talented ladies’ hands, begin their story as slightly naive, young girls who have recently lost their father. But as the years pass, their innocence gradually fades away as each learns how to deal with life as young women. Harsh reality also slowly dampens their dream of ever returning to Moscow, and the play ends with each sister a little wiser and better able to face the world more realistically.
Erin Barlow is excellent as Natasha. She begins the play as an awkward country girl, but her dramatic journey takes her to antagonistic arrogance. Joel Ewing also grows from nerdy younger brother Andrei to a young husband and father, fighting a losing battle in an attempt to maintain his position, both with his family and his community. Bill McGough is both funny and heartbreaking as Chebutykin, the elderly military doctor who’s adopted the Prozorov home as his own. He’s a sad older man, once a close friend to both parents, possibly even in love with Mrs. Prozorov. By the end of the play, however, Chebutykin is shattered as he sees the world to which he once belonged changing beyond recognition and leaving him behind.
The Hypocrites’ production of this Russian classic is solid. It presents Chekov’s comedy with a natural rhythm, never forcing the laughs or situations. Throughout this four act play, audiences watch a family trying to cope over the years with change and disappointment. Despite everything, the three sisters continue to struggle and support each other throughout the years, ever hoping and dreaming of something better, always with an eye toward Moscow.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 17-June 6 by The Hypocrites at the Den Theatre Mainstage, 1329 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by going to www.the-hypocrites.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.