The Three Sisters

By Anton Chekhov
Directed by Justine Lambert
The Looking Glass Theatre
422 West 57th downstairs (315-1737)
Equity showcase (Closes Jan. 14)
Review by Dudley Stone

One of the Looking Glass Theatre's goals is ``to explore and expand the role of women in theatre,'' says LGT's founder, Justine Lambert. Certainly, her direction of Chekhov's masterpiece provides an excellent opportunity to see three women, who, willingly or not, see deeper and further than anyone else. Written at the dawn of a new century, in 1900, the play tells at once of the death throes of a society, and the loneliness, the sense of failure and frustration of three sisters, Olga, Masha and Irina, who want much more out of life than the purposeless lives they are leading in an ambiance of faded gentility in a garrison town.

Olga, the eldest sister, a schoolteacher, dreams of marrying; Masha, married to a bore of a schoolmaster, conducts a hopeless affair with an equally unhappily married colonel; and Irena, the youngest sister, tries to get satisfaction from work in a telegraph office. Throughout the play, all three dream and talk of going ``to Moscow, to Moscow.'' But, hobbled by their respective circumstances, they never will. As if all this were not enough, their weak brother Andrey has married a common country girl who has more drive and gumption than all of them put together and gradually dominates all of them. Despite all the foregoing, the play ends on a note of hope.

Working in a small dungeon of a theatre with a cast of 14 -- not to mention a play that can make one wish that everyone, audience included, would get to Moscow right away and be done with it -- Ms. Lambert directed a real dramatic feast against great odds. This play of two-and-three-quarter hours seldom dragged even slightly. The firm and imaginative direction and a talented ensemble cast overcame the demands of set changes, costumes, sound and light and concentrated on this wonderful play, presenting the essential humanity and humor and deep sadness of all these people, many of whose moods and personalities were easy to identify with.

Kristine Watt as Irena was wonderful, bringing out all her warmth and sadness and potential love; Janice Johnson's Olga, patient and kind, long-suffering and retiring, was moving; and Alli Steinberg, as Masha, the only married sister, communicated her disappointment and the need for a real love very well. As Natasha, Katie Firth was strong as the force that shatters the equilibrium of the Prozoroff family. Paul James Bowen (Tuzenbach) started quietly but had some fine scenes, culminating in the most moving moment of the play, his farewell to Irena. In the difficult role of Andrey, Brent Langdon brought out the weakness that his wife is able to take advantage of; Jon Cable was strong and sympathetic as Vershinin; Patrick Crea did wonderfully understated work as Tchebutykin, a defeated doctor; and Kurt Eltmann made himself likable -- despite his weakness -- with a finely shaded performance as Masha's dull husband. Also good ensemble playing by Ruth Kulerman, Sean Miller, Gene Burke, David Rabin, and Timothy Clark Rhudy.

Costumes (Mia Reeves) were uneven: a lovely bustle dress on Irena, a scruffy contemporary-looking shirt and pants for Andrey, for example. Imagination went into the Army uniforms, which can be prohibitively expensive if rented. But if the audience is able to see into the baby carriage, as they are able to, there should be a baby in it, or at least covering blankets: it was quite empty! Small but important quibbles.

Lighting: mostly satisfactory; clever use of sound and music (uncredited). (Sets: Kenny Nowell; stage manager, Kimberly Mailloux.) (The play closes January 14, so do try to see it.)

Box Score:
Writing 2
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 1
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1996 Dudley Stone
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