Review "Three Sisters": Ruhl's Version Exhausts!

Piven Theatre presents


Written by Anton Chekhov
A new version by Sarah Ruhl
Based on a literal translation by Elise Thoron
With Natalya Paramonova and Kristin Johnsen-Neshati
Directed by Joyce Piven
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays 2:30pm
Thru November 21st
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Two hours and forty minutes includes a fifteen minute intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

'We can never have happiness.  We can only long for it.'  It's 'the grass is always greener in Moscow' notion!  Piven Theatre presents the Chicago premiere of Sarah Ruhl's adaptation of Anton Chekhov's classic, THREE SISTERS.  In a small village in 1900 Russia, three sisters lament their lives.  Irina dislikes unemployment.  Masha despises married life.  Olga hates her career path.  And they all detest their brother's girlfriend.  All the bad stuff would go away if they could just move back to Moscow.  While the sisters are making plans for their lives to start, life happens!  Irina gets a stalker.  Masha gets a lover.  Olga gets a promotion.  And they all get a sister-in-law who has her own plans.  Chekhov's classic THREE SISTERS is what happens when dreams don't come true.

Under the direction of Joyce Piven, the huge cast drinks in the Russian culture.  The toasts and shots provide a vibrant contrast to the house's brewing melancholy.   This libation background chatter also distracts from the focal point conversation with competing audio levels.   At the bottom of the Act, Piven effectively brings the action to a powerful halt with each character frozen in a semi-circle.  At the top of an Act, Piven wreaks havoc with a cast in chaos.  A perky birthday girl, Ravi Batista (Irina) leads the sisterhood with dreamy ideology.  When reality sets in, Batista ebbs and flows from hopeful to hopeless with sad resignation.   Battling laryngitis, Joanne Underwood's (Olga) hoarse voice was actually very effective in illustrating the strain of job and home life.   Underwood was sick and tired!  Whether she's lying and complaining on the couch or to her husband, Saren Nofs-Snyder (Masha) is a big bundle of self-absorption.  Nofs-Snyder transforms from acidic to giddy with one man's touch.  Grieving over his own lost love, John Fenner-Mays (Chebutykin) poignantly reeks of vodka and regret.  Arriving at her 'Moscow', Amanda Hartley Urteaga (Natasha) boldly and cruelly regentrifies.  The Russian names and beards make head-shot identification Russian Roulette.  Suffice to say, everybody added to the misery.... literature-ly speaking.    

'I'm tired' was an ongoing exclamation in the show.  Me too, sister!  The length of the play fatigues.  Given an opportunity to adapt a classic, adapt a classic!  Sarah Ruhl missed an opportunity to really tighten up the play for contemporary audiences.  A new version of an old story shouldn't go two hours and forty minutes, especially to show exhaustion.  As the sisters are taking turns laying down on the beds, I'm tempted to crawl onstage for a nap myself.       

With three sisters of his own, Roger describes the show with "grim but depressing."


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With a 35 minute wait at Bravi's, we wander over to Chef's Station, 915 Davis Street.  We are less than an hour from curtain and a five minute drive from our destination.  Roger uses all his negotiating skills to hard sell the hosts on accommodating our brief, reservationless dinner.  Promising to immediately order a few appetizers and a glass of wine and depart within thirty-five minutes, Roger receives approval from the Chef via the host.  We quickly order the scallops, arugula salad, onion tart, chicken-tortilla soup and a glass of the Malbec.  Although the scallops are a little overcooked, everything else is tasty perfection.  By sheer happenstance, we eat the tart last.  Presented with a fruit compote, it serves nicely as the dessert ending.  As Roger promises, we depart at 7:15 and head to Piven Theatre.   It's not Moscow but we had happiness for less than a hour at Chef's Station.      


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  • To this day, three sisters is the only play I've ever walked out on. And that includes The Jerry Springer Opera. Talk about boring!

  • In reply to drewkent23:

    I never considered walking out but I did want to curl up on a cot! Good for you on going the distance for on "The Jerry Springer Opera"... I didn't even get to the door! More Anton Chekhov tonight. Check back to see if I walked! And thanks for reading my reviews and sharing your thoughts.

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