John Lennon once described life’s unpredictability so poetically by saying, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Anton Chekhov’s tragic comedy, “The Three Sisters,” now playing at CSUN’s Studio Theatre, is a masterful example of that quote.
“Chekhov’s plays are not about magic or epic fantasy, but rather real life in all its subtleties,” said William Taylor, the theater’s manager.
Not only were Chekhov’s plays about realism, but they also provided a new method of acting, which was met with skepticism.
“When Chekhov’s plays were first presented, they caused some consternation because actors would turn their backs to the audience,” said Melissa Chalsma, director of “The Three Sisters.”
“For the actors, this production is an opportunity to work on a play that was part of a revolutionary change,” Chalsma said.
Set in a small provincial town in 19th century Russia, the play is about three sisters Olga, the eldest sister, Masha, the middle sister, and Irina, the youngest sister, played by Katie Ashley, Verity Branco and Amy Urbina, respectively.
The three sisters dream of returning to Moscow, the place they perceive to be a utopia and where they once lived with their father before he died. They moved to the small provincial town when their father, a military man, was stationed there. Despite a series of sorrowful and unfortunate events, the three sisters somehow manage not to lose hope and dream of returning to their utopia.
The three Prozorov sisters and Andrev Sergeiyevitch, their brother who grew up with wealth, portrayed by actor Josh Stern, lounge around with the soldiers. They meet and befriend an army doctor from the local regiment, Chebutykin, played by Jonathan Freeman-Anderson, and philosophize about life and working.
But all they do is talk about life. And as the years go by, Andrev, who dreamed of being a scientist, gets married to Natasha Ivanovna, portrayed by Katherine Johnson to be as cold and without compassion as winter in Antarctica, except when it comes to her lover, who everyone in town but her husband knows about. Andrev then develops a gambling habit, which is the talk of the town, as Natasha takes over their household.
His sister Olga is the reliable and responsible one, working all hours of the day and night as a teacher, and his sister Irina cannot wait to go to work and enjoy the freedom that she thought came with it, until she learns the harsh reality of what it means to be part of the working class. She is later pursued by the likeable and jovial army lieutenant Tuzenbach, played by actor Jozben Barrett, but she does not return his love.
Masha, meanwhile, is unhappy in her marriage to Kulygin, a school teacher played by Jeffrey Nichols, so she has an affair with Vershinin (Erik Roget), a lieutenant colonel whose wife keeps trying to commit suicide.
There are numerous other characters who add refreshing moments of comic relief throughout the play, turning dark into light. Solyony (Tyrone Davis), the captain with the dual streaks of oddity and hostility, Fedotik (Chester Sakamoto) and Rohde (Patric McInnis), who are both second lieutenants, offer amusing mannerisms. The nurse Anfisa (Ashley L. Evenson), with her worrisome personality, and the hearing impaired janitor at council offices, Ferapont (Adam Trahan) with his “What?” routine, add refreshing moments of laughter.
The lives of those in the household become entwined with those of the soldiers. Rather than plot twists, their connections drive the play into, as Howard Moss put it, “a kind of geometric structure, one angle of each story fitting into the triangular figure of another, and, overlaying that, a subtle web of connected images and words. Seemingly artless, it is made of steel.”
There is not an obvious main character in “The Three Sisters,” which allowed Chalsma to use the eclectic cast to turn a gloomy play into unexpected fun.
The sets and costumes are simple, allowing the focus to be on the vivacious acting. But the small number of sets and costumes did not take anything away from the play, as the cast gave stellar performances that illuminated the stage and kept the audience intensely captivated in the intimate theatre.
Audience members found the play accomplishes what it sets out to do and conveys a sense that anything can happen and that we can never know what is around the corner.