Three Sisters (Anton Chekhov) Theatre review By Joshua Young
Brooklyn Rep’s production of Three Sisters at the Fourth Street Theatre is a very ambitious interpretation, and it deserves a great deal of credit for its aspiration. The driving momentum behind this production was to create a multiracial version of the Russian masterpiece. Elisabeth Ng, Brooklyn Rep’s Creative Director (also Olga in the show) should be lauded for her goal of using a classic text as a platform for creating work relevant to the conversation of racial inclusivity in the arts. The cast is as ethnically varied a team as one could imagine, but grounded in the every-day metropolitan cultural landscape most city dwellers experience on a daily basis.
The framing device director Victor Cervantes Jr. applies in staging is to set the “play” in contemporary NYC and have all the “characters” performing the piece as a form of drama therapy. All of the action is set within the walls of what seems to be a psych ward of a mental hospital. The play works significantly more as an experiment than a performance of Chekov’s work. The subtlety and naturalism of Chekov’s words were slightly sacrificed in order to serve the goal of the production. The best observation from the evening would be to encourage Brooklyn Rep to perhaps abandon trying to do a true-to-text version of Three Sisters and instead take their genuinely provocative and intriguing premise; that a therapy group uses Three Sisters as a way to heal their social dysfunctions, and create a new work altogether (even if it’s a Hamletmachine style pastiche of the classic text).
The gems of the work lay within some of the performances. Within the construction of this piece there are two standout performances; the first by Anna Tempte playing Masha. Anna’s choices were well suited to the interpretation as she peppered the play with big, bold acting choices. The very nature of this interpretation hobbled more of the nuanced and quiet moments of Chekov, and Anna was the actress that embraced that quality and pushed the boundaries of naturalistic acting. She cleverly conveyed the duality of Chekov’s Masha as done by a modern psych ward patient. And yet she never fell into caricature or melodrama, and really owned a robust version of Masha that commanded attention. Another notable performance was from Tahirah Stanley. Similar to Tempte, it was clear Tahirah embraced the nature of this interpretation and went for the bigger choices on stage. But the important difference is that, unlike Tempte whose work pushed the boundaries of naturalistic acting, Tahirah was more of a catalyst actor, really “getting in there” with her partners on stage. She served as a lynchpin in helping develop the framing device of the show and also brought out the best in her fellow actors. Similar to Tempte, Tahirah effortlessly imparted to her audience the given circumstances onstage.
Overall this version of Three Sisters deserves notice and should be a considered a harbinger of upcoming notable work for Brooklyn Repertory
This show is not running presently but do check out Brooklyn Repertory’s site