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Three Sisters is Remarkably Relevant

By Margaret H. Gleason

If you were in the audience for Working Title's production of Chekhov's The Three Sisters, consider yourself lucky. The show, a combination of stellar acting, attractively atmospheric tech and thoughtful direction, illustrated the level of sophistication possible in a repertory company.

This portrait of privileged classes in late 19th century Russia is especially poignant in view of the desperate plight of the Soviet Union today. When Alexander Ignatevich Vershinin (Woody Hill) tries to make sense of the Russian people's suffering by predicting a brighter future for his descendants, it becomes clear that the current generation of Soviets possess little but this same, small hope.

As a director, Heather Cross deftly exploits the comedic as well as the tragic aspects of Chekhov's script. Fyodor Ilich Kulygin (Glenn Kessler) begins each of his scenes by asking for the whereabouts of his wife, Masha (Patricia Goldman). This habit, funny at first, becomes tragic as Kessler is revealed to be a man hopelessly trying to deny the grim reality of his loveless marriage. The alienation of the characters in The Three Sisters becomes so forceful at the production's conclusion precisely because it appears so harmlessly amusing in the play's opening scenes.

In the final act, Cross departs from the more traditional staging of the previous three. The set is removed and in one corner the old doctor, Ivan Romanovich Chebutykin (Ian Lithgow), covers himself in newspapers. In a lesser production, this dramatic move could have proved distracting and muted the impact of the final scenes, but the performances are so absorbing that this change does not seem important.

The cast of The Three Sisters functioned well as a unit yet established distinctive characters. Rather than being overwhelmed by the playwright, as so many directors of Chekhov seem to be, Cross displays confidence in her own vision. She combines traditional domestic vignettes with innovative staging to communicate a feeling first of warmth and then of alienation.

Cross has designed a set that transforms the Old Library into an intimate flower-strewn space. The production is further aided by Jessica Goldberg's attractive costumes and Ben Decker's sound design, which enhances the dreamy atmosphere of the production. Hopefully, Working Title will continue to produce high-quality shows and maintain its position in the upper echelons of Harvard theater.

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