Theatre Erindale concludes their 2018- 2019 season with Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, directed by Jim Mezon. On the brink of their graduation from the Theatre and Drama Studies program, the cast of Three Sisters is tasked to meditate on the disappointments and delusions that make up a major part of our daily lives. Three Sisters follows Russian sisters Olga, Masha, and Irina and their family and friends. The sisters are discontent with life in the provincial garrison town where they live and long to return to the city of Moscow, their childhood home. As much as the characters find solace in contemplating a better future, they seem to have a greater longing for the past, youth, and what could have been.
There is something particularly ghostly about watching students perform Chekhov. Beneath the aging, dull dispositions of their characters are actors on the cusp of beginning a new chapter in their lives. Even as Chekhov’s characters lose the ambition and hope, the memory of youth and possibility is preserved on the faces of the actors that portray them. Although the actors’ performances get heavier with each act, they never become caricatures of older people. By allowing their youth to shine through, they manage to keep the past and the present in view simultaneously, increasing the audience’s awareness of the effects of time in the play.
The production opens with a concealed stage cloaked in a curtain of translucent linen. As the lights rise, we see the set through a dreamy mist of fabric, which makes the idyllic nature of the first act seem like a foggy distant memory even as we watch it unfold before our eyes. As the show progresses the curtains are stripped away, and the audience is left with a stark, unobstructed view of the present. As the sisters and their family let go of the dream of ever returning to Moscow, their environment comes into focus.
Throughout the production there are subtle nods toward the past. In Act III, the old nanny Anfisa, played by Holly May, is horrified when Alexia Vassos’ Olga tosses aside three dolls while collecting things to donate to the victims of a fire. In this moment practicality, anxiety and tragedy overshadow the memories of innocence and youth. When reflecting on what they have lost over the years, each of the three sisters holds the dolls in their hands, imagining what could have been. Confronting images of a former self is revisited throughout the show, but this moment stood out as particularly poignant.
Three Sisters is an unmistakable depressing play, but the cast managed to insert strong moments of playfulness and vivacity. Rebecca McDonald’s Irina exemplified all the hope and ambition of young adulthood. Until the end, McDonald manages to bring warmth, energy, and life to moments of stillness and dreariness. Her sweet interactions with Liam McKinnon’s Fedotik preserve moments of childish exuberance in an otherwise doleful adult world.
The fabulous Russian dance between Mussie Solomon’s Tuzenback and Yona Epstein Roth’s Andrei contains the most energy and movement that we see in the entire play. This scene creates such a stark contrast to Epstein Roth’s somber contemplative monologues later in the show and helps to mark the drastic decline of Andrei as a character.
Mo Zeighami’s Masha is prematurely pledged with an apathy for her situation. Although she is one of the younger characters in this play, Masha appears world-weary in one moment, and fierce and sprightly in the next, as if fighting against a fate she has previously resigned herself to. Her struggle against her own dissatisfaction is as heroic as it is damaging.
The peaks of liveliness are what make the tragic moments in the show that much more painful. Yet moments of levity and joy are crucial reminders that Three Sisters isn’t simply a harrowing look at disappointments to come, but also a call to note the joys in life, to hold on to hope, and to keep moving forward in spite of life’s trials. Although Three Sisters concludes with unresolved conflicts and unfulfilled dreams, each sister resolves to move forward with life anyways, regardless of where it may take them.
Theatre Erindale’s Three Sisters is a rare opportunity to see Chekhov’s work in the hands of young theatre creators, adding a layer to the work that we don’t often see. The production runs from March 14th to 24th at the Erindale Studio Theatre.
This article has been corrected.
- March 18, 2019 at 12 a.m.: Yona Epstein Roth’s name was corrected in both instances