The Three Sisters, a play about lacking agency

It can’t count as a spoiler if it’s something that everybody knows, something that’s entered the cultural lexicon.  Godot never comes.  Rosebud is his sled.  And the three sisters don’t get to Moscow.

That’s actually all I knew about Anton Chekov’s famous play The Three Sisters, before attending the Broken Toys Theatre production last night.  They don’t get to Moscow.  Oh, and one of them would be called Masha.

The Broken Toys production was directed by Clinton Carew, and he also did a new translation of the play from the Russian.  Before the show started, Carew came to the front of the stage and told the audience that he would be filling in for an ill cast member until further notice, and he alluded to the broadsheet he was carrying, with Russian headlines, which he would be referring to throughout the show.  (Maybe it had lines or cues on it, but he didn’t actually spell that out.)  I eventually figured out that the ill cast member must be Ken Brown, cast as Chebutykin the old military doctor and friend/tenant of the family.  I also spent the whole evening trying to figure out whether I’d seen Clinton Carew on stage before or whether his voice and movement just reminded me of someone, and this morning a theatre friend has pointed out to me that Carew had played in the Catalyst Theatre production The Soul Collector.

There were many more familiar faces and names on the Varscona stage as well – almost as many as in the cast list for The Christmas Carol (no overlap of course).

Lora Brovold (A Few Good Men, Let the Light of Day Through) was the oldest sister, competent comforting Olga the unmarried teacher.  The middle sister Masha, the discontented married one, was Melissa Thingelstad (An Accident, Kill Me Now).   The bitter sarcastic edge that her paralyzed character showed in An Accident and the impatient strides of the caregiver aunt in Kill Me Now were perfect in Masha, and the scenes in which she is parted from her lover and welcomed back by the husband she doesn’t love are heartbreaking.  The youngest sister Irina, with her enthusiasm for family, her naive ideas about working for a living that are gradually disillusioned as she tries working as a telegraph operator and a township council clerk and then gets a teaching qualification,  and her longing for the Moscow of her childhood, was played by Elena Porter.  I don’t think I’d seen her on stage before but I will definitely watch her again.

I did not quite recognise Jesse Gervais (Let the Light of Day Through) in the bearded off-topic character of Ferapont.  Ryan Parker of the Be-Arthurs was the brother Andrei, the petted only son who fails to live up to his sisters’ ambition for him and their hope to follow him to Moscow, finding himself stuck in marriage to banal social-climber Natasha (Laura Metcalfe), in a job with local government, and in debt due to a gambling problem.  And Michael Peng (The Kite Runner, An Accident) was very strong as Vershinin, the military commander with unhappy homelife, tendency to make philosophical speeches, and passion for Masha.

During the play, various characters sing or hum bits of song, unaccompanied and with about the same attention to rhythm and tune as ordinary people in real life.  This struck me as unusual for the stage, where people don’t usually sing without singing well.   Between acts, the cast members set up new furniture as needed for a bedroom and then the grounds of the house.  Instead of removing the furniture used for previous sets, they piled it all up at the back of the stage, building the impression of the family being less and less settled in the military town and in the family home that Natasha is gradually taking over.  I also really liked the modern language in Carew’s translation, “Weird!” “Well, that happened.” “She has … people skills.” and very occasional profanity.  I thought the play was a lot funnier than Chekov’s Cherry Orchard, which I remember studying in Grade 13, but I can’t tell how much of that was due to the strengths of this production, and how much was just that it went over my head in the  English classroom.

Playing til December 7th, tickets ahead of time at Tix on the Square, same-day tickets at the door.  I really wish that Tix on the Square and their partner companies could do same-day on-line sales the way the Fringe box office and Eventbrite can do.

4 thoughts on “The Three Sisters, a play about lacking agency

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