There are eleven people in "The Three Sisters" with clearly defined characters. By the end of the third act, nine have been shown to be suffering almost unbearable agonies, the tenth is a first-class bitch with a bad inferiority complex, and the eleventh is a happy men. During the fourth act he gets his, too.
Chekhov is almost painfully Russian. His characters are up to their necks in suffering and continually say such things as "How life changes, How it deceives one." They are married to stupid husbands, or not married, or about to be married to people they don't love; they have forgotten all they used to know, or else are too stupid to know anything. But never are they happy for more than one sardonic joke at a time.
Chekhov has set his play in the familiar Russian provincial town. The action revolves around the three sisters, who house is a center of intelligence and education in this cultural backwash. The trouble for them and most of their friends is that intelligence and education simply enable them to see the appalling sterility of the rest of their friends, the town, and the whole country. This fills them with a proper Russian despair.
"The Three Sisters" is a gloomy play, but it is good. Chekhov plays his mood for all it is worth, and at the same time manages to introduce quite a bit of sardonic humor. "The Three Sisters," however, is a play which needs expert handling; there is so much that could be overplayed. The Brattle Theatre has avoided the traps and turned out an excellent production.
Most of the credit is due to Eva LeGaillienne, who played the lead role of Masha and directed the play. Her acting was first class, and it is to her credit as a director that the suffering did not get out of control, as it might so easily have done. Behind her as the other two sisters are Margaret Webster and Sylvia Farnham, both of whom despair well. At a more or less uniform level of excellence are Paul Ballantyne, George Hill, David Lewis, Peter Temple, Eugene Stuckmann, and Darthy Hinkley, most of whose Russian names would be enough to throw me into a despair, too.