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Sometimes, though not often, a play comes along and says, "This is the way you who watch this play are, this is the way you live, and these are the things you suffer." If it says so well and beautifully, it is a great play. Anton Chekov's The Three Sisters is surpassingly great.
Just about everything that is important happens to the three sisters of the title. Living in a middle-class house in a provincial Russian city around the turn of the century, each of the sisters looks for reason, some pattern in her life--through love, work, or an escape to the heavenly city of Moscow. Each in her own way fails to find ultimate happiness, but they all learn that reasons are unimportant and that living itself is enough happiness.
The Harvard Dramatic Club production unhappily only suggests something of the beauty of this play, and not very often at that. There are no villains who must accept the blame for the lack of unqualified success. With two or three exceptions, the general level of competence and experience is just not high enough to do Chekov's work justice. But the production is not total failure, either, because two of the performers--Barbara Blanchard and Thomas Teal--are good enough to support it while they are on stage.
Miss Blanchard, as the sister Masha who carries on an adulterous and eventually doomed love affair, turns in a mature and persuasive performance. Not only does she know how to use her voice, but what is more important she catches the rhythm of Masha's speeches and shows how the woman suffers. As Baron Tusenbach, Thomas Teal shows himself as accomplished a technician as Miss Blanchard, and projects a wholly appropriate mixture of agony and nobility.
Ella Clark and Amanda Mackay-Smith rate notice for the size of their parts as the other two sisters, but not for their accomplishments. Miss Clark, particularly, shows nothing but the efforts of a young actress trying hard. Richard Smithies, in the part of a philosophic army officer, plays Richard Smithies. He does this very well by now, but the characterization is becoming tiresome. As for the other performers, except for Elizabeth Fox, who is just about nasty enough as a snobbish young wife, the kindest thing which can be said is that they would profit from further experience. But so should everybody.
Elizabeth Stearns' directing shows she can make actors move into adequate enough groupings on the stage, but without any clear idea of why they are doing it. She completely fails to understand the rhythms and contrapuntal structure of Chekov's dramaturgy, which help make The Three Sisters the theatrical masterpiece it ought to be, but fails in this production.
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