Archived Arts & Entertainment

Superb acting highlights HART’s ‘Three Sisters’

In The Three Sisters, Anton Chekhov tells audiences that suffering, education and work will lay the foundation for a new Russia. Or as Chekhov might put it: Suffering! Education! Work! For in scene after scene, this play depicts the old Russia giving way to the modern age, the leisure class slowly losing its place in society and joining in the effort to build this fresh, new world while heeding Chekhov’s hortatory battle-cry: Suffering! Education! Work!

Chekhov offers audiences a similar theme in “The Cherry Orchard,” though the final image of that play, where the ancient family servant lies down to die, sends a darker message. Clearly the playwright believed in his vision of the future, believed that if his present generation offered up sacrifices and struggle, then the following generations would find dignity and contentment in their lives while also looking back with gratitude to those who underwent the ordeal that brought them their brave new world. Anton Chekhov looks to this fabulous future with nearly as much hope as the Victorians, who envisioned the human race as progressing inevitably into an era of enlightenment and peace.

The twentieth century, of course, put an end to these poetic visions, though the Russians today still pride themselves on a breadth and depth of soul compared to other Westerners. The revolution of 1917 and the subsequent battles of the Communists, first against the Whites, then against the Nazis, then against the United States and the West, and throughout it all against themselves, brought a tidal wave of blood and destruction to Chekhov’s motherland. The communists, who believed in the efficacy of suffering, education, and work, who believed that the great sacrifices of the people would lead to a workers’ utopia, eventually became murderers who killed not only millions of the Russian people, but the very dream of communism itself.

Knowing the final fruits of the idealism espoused by Chekhov only deepens the tragedy of The Three Sisters, now showing at the Haywood Arts Reparatory Theater in Waynesville. Through the characters of this play — though it is Chekhov‘s material, this current play also bears touches of playwright Brian Friel — we begin to see the flaws in the Russian character that will eventually combine with communism to tarnish the dream. There is the idealism of Vershinin (Steven Lloyd), the military officer who envisions utopia but who can’t run the affairs of his own family; the unimaginative complacency of Kulygin (Tom Dewees), who relies on Latin quips and routine to get him through his marriage and his life; the brutal efficiency of Natasha (Trinity Smith), who as the new mistress of the house and the wife of Andrey (Rob Mallard), overturns the old order of things; the drunkenness of Chebutykin (Terry Nienhuis), the doctor who can only face the future with a bottle.

Adding to the debates and discussions of these characters are the half-crazed Solyony (Jeff Backer); the two fun-loving soldiers, Roddey (Anthony Giordano) and Fedotik (Jonathan Minick); and the servants: Afanisa (Reta Scribner), who so fears the loss of her position because of her advanced age; Ferapont (Steve Crider), increasingly deaf to the demands of his masters; and the new maid (Ashley Robinson).

Finally, there are the three sisters themselves — Olga (Jane Sperry), who dreams of the past and is the headmistress of a school; Masha (Jennifer Sanner), who seeks an escape from the present, and is Kulygin’s wife and the unhappy lover of Vershinin; and Irina (Jesse Howell), who wishes for a life of love and adventure in Moscow, but chooses a loveless marriage to Baron Tusenbach (Rick Sibley), only to have that courtship end in tragedy.

The acting in this particular HART production is especially fine. There is no miscasting here. A few of the actual lines of the play sounded off-key; the exclamation “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph” would surely never pass a Russian’s lips, but instead reveals that writer Brian Friel is Irish. Those attending this play may therefore expect a treat in regard to the actors. Theater-goers should also come expecting a classic production of a classic play. Those who always want to see a musical or a comedy may take home many good things from this play as well if they will only recalibrate their expectations.

The capable direction of Kay Lloyd — he has three times been involved in The Three Sisters in other theaters — has doubtless contributed much to the success of this production. Others who helped create this fine night in local theater include Lori Robinson, stage manager; Cary Nichols, assistant stage manager; Roger Magendie, lighting/sound operator; Christy Bishop, photographer; Charles Mills, scene transitions; Steven Lloyd, production design; and Mary Olson, costumes.

HART will run The Three Sisters on Friday, Nov. 18, and Saturday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m. There will be a matinee production at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 20. For more information call the HART box office at 828.456.6322.

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