Opaque Version of Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’


“To Moscow! Moscow! Moscow!”

Once again we hear Irena’s mystifying cry, this time at the Lex Theatre in Hollywood. How are we to interpret its dense mix of the ridiculous and tragic? “The Three Sisters,” Anton Chekhov’s most difficult drama, can be played for laughs or directed like a dirge. Critic Lionel Trilling called it one of the saddest works in all literature, and Chekhov denounced original director Constantin Stanislavski’s tendency to turn the plaintive sisters into “crybabies.”

The Actors Conservatory Ensemble, under Mark Haining’s adroit direction, has chosen a deliberately opaque approach. They leave it up to us. We can judge the Prozorov family, trapped in a provincial city far from their childhood Moscow home, as pathetic intellectuals incapable of decisive action. We can see them as fragile candles flickering in gathering darkness. Or we can say it’s all pretentious nonsense, as army doctor Chebutykin (an impressive Charles Hyman) repeatedly announces.

This ambivalent approach fits Chekhov’s famous declaration: “It is necessary that on the stage everything should be as complex and as simple as in life.” Sometimes we may wish for more clarity here, particularly in Bridget Hoffman’s social climber Natasha, who strikes a bold pose between caricature and malevolence. And designer Nicholas Dorr’s gloomy drawing room soundly exploits a limited space, making the Prozorovs’ condition all the more claustrophobic, but in the crucial third act, when the town is swept by fire, the limitations become liabilities--we never believe there is a devastating inferno just outside.


It’s the siblings that always make or break “The Three Sisters,” however, and Mary Lou Metzger (Olga), Constance Morslund (Masha), Kristin Zaslow (Irena) and John Pleshette (Andrey) form a believable family. They mourn, gossip, comfort one another, betray one another--just like the folks next door.

Such simple humanity is what makes this revival consummate Chekhov.

* “The Three Sisters,” the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sunday matinees, 2 p.m. Dark Dec. 23-Jan. 2. Ends Jan. 30. $10. (213) 463-6244. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.