Anton Chekhov’s lovely and literate play “The Three Sisters” is fully illuminated by Williamstown Theatre Festival’s stunning production. Every nuance of the play’s thematic intricacies — its hope, its despair, its prescience — is explored by director Michael Greif. And the show is perfectly cast.
‘The Three Sisters’
WHERE: Williamstown Theatre Festival, Rte. 2, Williamstown, Mass.
WHEN: Through July 27
HOW MUCH: $60-$45
MORE INFO: (413) 597-3400
The story centers on the Prozorov sisters Olga (Jessica Hecht), Masha (Rosemarie De Witt) and Irina (Aya Cash). They have been stranded by the death of their father in the provincial environment of a country house surrounded by stately birch trees. They long for the excitement and opportunity promised by Moscow, but they are trapped by circumstances they cannot overcome.
Hecht, as Olga, bears the burden of a job she hates with false cheeriness. She is gentility personified as an “old-maid schoolteacher.” De Witt displays a clenching anger toward Kulygin (Jonathan Fried), a husband she has admired in the past but never loved. Cash gives Irina the youthful, heartbreaking innocence of a girl longing to be in love. All three actors supply the vibrancy of their inner lives — their boredom and their frustration — without being boring of frustrating. It makes for magical Chekhov.
The elixir the sisters cling to is the presence of a battalion of soldiers in the town. The men drop in for lunches and suppers and they offer the masculine energy that their violin-playing brother, Andrei, gorgeously played by Manoel Felciano, cannot. Most aggressively masculine is Vershinin (Stevie Ray Dallimore), with whom Masha falls in love. They have a brief tempestuous affair and, when the troops are transferred out of the town, their parting is passionate and soul-searing.
When Andrei brings home a bride, Natasha (Cassie Beck), the sisters are faced with the vulgarity and coarseness from which they have sought to protect themselves. Beck levels them with a surface sweetness that becomes vicious and even bestial. Andrei says plaintively that he believes there is something inhuman about her. Beck’s performance is quite simply riveting.
Baron Tuzenbach (Keith Nobbs) becomes Irina’s hope. She does not love him but understands that his love for her may be her only escape from a futile life in the country. Nobbs gives voice to the prescience Checkov often displays. “The time is at hand,” he says several years before the Russian Revolution, “ . . . a mighty clearing storm which is coming . . . will soon blow the laziness, the indifference, the distaste for work, the rotten boredom, out of our society. I shall work . . . everyone will have to work.”
With tall, stylistic birches (which Natasha decides to have cut down), snow falling against a cobalt blue sky, and colorful autumn leaves tumbling about in a garden, set designer Allen Moyer notes the passage of seasons and the passing of time. He does it beautifully. Sound by Walter Trarbach includes a chamber orchestra and live music throughout.