Sis3ters, Roadworks Productions, at the Chopin Theatre. Last year, Curt Columbus's contemporary translation of Uncle Vanya was one of the highlights of Sheldon Patinkin's marvelous Steppenwolf production. And Columbus's translation-adaptation of another of Chekhov's great plays, The Three Sisters, is similarly beguiling.
This time around, however, Columbus is out to do more than update Chekhov's dialogue. In Sis3ters, which he also directs, he completely re-creates the play, cutting characters, shortening scenes, transposing the action to small-town America, and transforming Chekhov's realistic work into a highly fragmented, dreamlike performance piece. The result is bracing and intelligent, full of startling moments, daring innovations, and fine performances from the five cast members, led by Elizabeth Birnkrant, Amy J. Carle, and Michele DiMaso. Especially intriguing is Columbus's conceit that much of the play is performed by the three sisters to amuse themselves using toys in the attic--a witty choice that allows them to manipulate dolls to portray their henpecked brother and his shallow wife.
Sadly, Sis3ters lacks the grace and majesty of Chekhov's original. Columbus retains the play's heartbreaking message--life is what happens while you're making plans--but not its spirit. You just can't cram a three-hour play into an hour and 45 minutes without losing something essential.