A play with Miss Cornell is always an event; her present production is almost an incredibility in the theatrical talent which its dramatics personae represent. Judith Anderson, Ruth Gordon, Edmund Gwenn, Dennis King, Alexander Knowx, Gertrude Musgrove and, of course, Katherine Cornell lend an intoxicating amount of capability to a superbly written and directed play.
The work of Anton Checkhov, saintlike Russian reformer, "The Three Sisters" was first performed by Stanislavsky in Moscow in February, 1901. The play itself is a beautifully executed bit of national portraiture as well as a discriminating study of individual frustration. Each of the three Prozorov sisters, living in a provincial Russian town of the last century, suffers from disappointment and disillusion. Masha, wed to an absurd pedagogue, finds, only to lose, her true love, Colonel Vershmin; Olga the eldest, is doomed to spend the dreary minutes of her existence as a high-school superintendent; and Irina, the youngest, hating her provincial life, no longer able to "remember the Italian for window or ceiling," sees her last chance for escape disappear when her fiance is killed in a duel. An unhappy ending follows naturally and is attained with all the Russian genius for melancholy. Chekhow perceives and portrays the dreamlike weakness of his characters, their inability to face and master the problems engendered by circumstance; but, at the same time, he holds out for those millions who know not why they suffer, the hope for a better world to come and the thought that "our sufferings will pass into joy for those who will live after us."
All of the characterizations are distinguished, with that of Edmund Gwenn as Dr. Chebutykin outstanding. Gwenn captures all the inherent pathos in the character of the pitiful Army Doctor who takes to drink to escape from his failure in life; his Act III soliloquy, which in less capable hands could have become bathetic, is exactly right. Ruth Gordon is an extremely lifelike Natasha, so lifelike in fact that one comes from the theatre hating her thespian guts. And Judith Anderson turns in a finely turned performance as Olga, bearing her neurosis ably. Miss Cornell, The Lady With the Manner, is as wonderful as ever. Although the play has no one outstanding role, Katherine Cornell's Masha in black habit and, mood makes the most of her propensity to sorrow, and even her third act rageful exit is distinguished.