"Three Sisters" (Steppenwolf Theatre): The Real Housewives of Russia

"Three Sisters" (Steppenwolf Theatre): The Real Housewives of Russia

#146. Over twenty-five years ago, Julie and Tom moved from South Bend, Indiana to Rochester, New York.  The newlyweds were going to start their new life together and raise a family. Over the last quarter of a century, I see Julie every few years for a gal pal reunion.  Inevitably, she will bring up her dream plan, moving back to South Bend.  Once her children are grown, she and Tom will return to Indiana.  It’s her fantasy!  Having lived in that area, I don’t see the pining appeal. And I really don’t understand postponing a move that you believe will bring you such domestic bliss.

Steppenwolf Theatre presents THREE SISTERS by award-winning collaborators Tracy Letts and Anna D. Shapiro.  Olga is a teacher.  Masha is a wife.  Irina is a dreamer.  They grew up in a home of servants and frequent military guests.  Their parents are dead but the girls still continue to entertain the officers occupying their small town.  Even hosting frequent shindigs, the sisters are dissatisfied.  Olga is tired.  Masha is lonely.  Irina is bored.  They want a change.  Moscow is their Mecca.  And they wistfully talk about moving there.  Or is that just a lot of party chatter? Affairs, fighting, and plenty of vodka... THREE SISTERS is the “Real Housewives of Russia.”

Anton Chekhov wrote timeless themes of discontentment.  Societal class, gender designation, employment situation, marital status, especially in THREE SISTERS, Chekhov’s characters yearn for the life they don’t have.  Everything is going to be great if they can just get to work, get to love, get to Moscow.  Moscow becomes this fanciful notion based on hazy childhood memories.  Not too long ago, I saw Sarah Ruhl’s THREE SISTERS.  It felt more like a straight translation than an adaptation.  When Ruhl’s sisters complained about being bored and tired, I was right there with them.

In this version, Playwright Tracy Letts teams up with Director Anna D. Shapiro to integrate this Chekhov classic for a modern audience. They give it the “August: Osage County” treatment.  The brewing family drama is always present but comedic moments are exploited for their hilarious absurdity.  Carrie Coon (Masha) is the perfect example.  Coon spends most of the show in recline mode, disengaged.  And then when her interest is peaked, Coon rises to the revelry with one line zingers.  She and her sisters, stoic Ora Jones (Olga) and nostalgic Caroline Neff (Irina), have this tight bond.  There is an unspoken union between them.  Despite their very different personalities, they face any family dysfunction with loyalty to the sisterhood.  Their staunch alliance is my favorite part of this show. That and Alana Arenas (Natasha) blossoming from timid girlfriend to full-on bitchy wife.  A hysterical Arenas delivers her viciousness as matter-of-fact politeness.

The huge and talented cast fill the stage with merriment and unrequited hopes.  In this house of bittersweet comedy and drama, Scenic Designer Todd Rosenthal hangs an oversized framed screen.  With Lighting Designer Donald Holder, Rosenthal projects a wooded area with a stately but aged home in the background.  There are lights flickering in the windows.  The visual is the epitome of the story.  This is a home that has seen better days but still remains a solid haven.  Powerful imagery.

Much like Julie, these THREE SISTERS are too wrapped up in wishful thinking to achieve their dreams. Under Letts and Shapiro’s guidance, the thought-provoking content is delivered with relatable snark and poignant takeaways. This THREE SISTERS is a classic take on an ageless masterpiece.

Running Time:  Two hours and thirty minutes includes an intermission

At Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted

Written by Anton Chekhov

Adapted by Tracy Letts

Directed by Anna D. Shapiro

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays at 7:30pm

Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm

Thru August 26th

Buy Tickets at www.steppenwolf.org

Leave a comment