"Three Sisters": Theater Review

"She's a piece of work," says Masha (Natalia Payne) of Natasha (Emily Kitchens). That may not sound like Chekhov — or at least it doesn't sound like the mannered translations that often pass as Chekhov. But in Sarah Ruhl's fresh, colloquial version of Three Sisters, directed with gentle humor and compassion by Les Waters, the heartbreak never feels stuck in 1901. As Olga (Wendy Rich Stetson), Masha, and Irina (Heather Wood) reflect on the tediousness of work, the slow-motion tragedy of old age, and the impossibility of lasting love, this Berkeley Rep production takes on a close-knit intimacy that feels perfectly, fittingly fragile. The cast is exceptionally strong, but Payne is a standout as the embittered, mordant Masha; I also admired Sam Breslin Wright as an especially disturbed Solyony. Their stories play out under Alexander V. Nichols' autumnal lighting on an intricate, rust-brown dollhouse set by Annie Smart. "We will never go to Moscow," Irina says near play's end, finally realizing what even a Chekhov newbie could have predicted from the start. For all the liveliness and contemporary kick of Ruhl's translation, the play retains the power of its central theme — that modernity will never save us from unhappiness.

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