Three Sisters | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Three Sisters, Piven Theatre. In the program, director Joyce Piven alludes to several themes allegedly inherent in Chekhov's drama: existential uncertainty, contemplation of the "mystery of Being," and (quoting scholar Richard Gillman) a "fixed text that feels as if it's being improvised." The press release for this Piven Theatre production also promises a "'live camera' production with the feeling of many closeups."

In practice, however, these theories are less intriguing. Existential uncertainty appears to be indicated by Joanne Underwood's Irina communicating in elongated vowels prefaced by a variety of grunts, moans, and whines, while Bernard Beck's Chebutykin deals with crises by bawling, "What is reality?" The camera motif consists of the Prozorov clan posing once to be photographed--a device then abandoned. And the "improvisation" takes form in curiously hesitant deliveries, as if people were unwilling to commit to any definite opinion or emotion.

But when actors conceal their characters' motives from us, there can be no revelation of subtext and thus no incentive for us to give a damn. (The exceptions here are actors F. David Roth as Tuzenbach and Marcia Reinhard as Natasha: they seem to have ignored the director's instructions, since their characters actually appear interested at all times in what they themselves and others are saying.) By act four the suffering has escalated sufficiently to spur our sympathy, but by then it's too late.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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