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Spine: ‘Three Sisters’ by the Maly Drama Theatre at The Kennedy Center

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With the Maly Drama Theatre’s Three Sisters, playing through April 30 at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre, theatre lovers will feast on every slow motion wonderment, every long glance into emptiness, every hysterical laugh at utterly meaningless boredom.

Ksenia Rappoport (Masha), Elizaveta Boyarskaya (Irina), and Irina Tychinina (Olga). Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

For this is Chekhov, the master playwright, and his master play, Three Sisters, being performed by a master theatre company: it’s not worshipful, but it’s not disrespectful either.

What this Three Sisters is, is a late 19th-century play performed for a 21st-century audience: it’s painfully funny when endured to the last tragic moment.

To be sure, Director Lev Dobin and his design team have the vision, but its his actors who have the courage to bring this Three Sisters to life at a pace only a fisherman could appreciate.

For urbanites anxious for the next tweet or selfie, every squirm on stage revealed yet another layer of agitation slowly peeled away to expose another anxiety underneath. For them, the funny wasn’t so funny.

And some of those urban or suburban dwellers left the theatre, during intermission–two young women even left during the second act, passing two characters making an entrance down the Eisenhower aisle.

The cast of Three Sisters. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Perhaps, those exiting young women could not suffer the hard truth that this Three Sisters was making visceral in the space around their seats: that truth being the unbearable need we all have for distraction, for entertainment, for anything that might divert our attention away from the relentlessness of minutes.

Or maybe they were just late, late, “for a very important date.”

It’s at times like these that we truly appreciate having lots of work yet to do, as Irina proclaims on more than four occasions.  She is played with such startling anguish by Elizaveta Boyarskaya that I’m trembling in remembrance.

And then there’s Masha, the middle sister, who married Feodor (played with small town heroism by Sergey Vlasov), the high school teacher. She is played like a kettle slowly coming to boil by Ksenia Rappoport.

Her scenes with Vershinin (played forever dutifully by Igor Chernevich) are a marvel to behold, particularly when their passion erupts like an underground geyser.

And then there is Olga, the eldest, the sister who first recognizes that the elitist lifestyle their family once lived in Moscow will be no more. As played by Irina Tychinina, this Olga’s stoicism ripples through the auditorium as she gazes, fixated on the nothingness before her.

But truly, the entire ensemble has created a village of people whose every moment on stage was filled with detail, and it’s in that detail that the real theatre lover marvels: so much life in such a small instant in time.

From the carriage-pushing brother Andrey (played with unnerving pathos by Alexander Bikovsky) to Nicolai Tuzenbach, the relentlessly honorable Oleg Ryazanzev, to his chief nemesis, Vassili Soleniy, the “road-rage ready to happen” Stanislav Nikolskiy, each character has his moment in this Chekhovian symphony.

Elizaveta Boyarskaya (Irina), Ekaterina Kleopina (Natasha), Ksenia Rappoport as Masha, Irina Tychinina (Olga), and Sergey Kuryshev (Ivan Chebutikin). Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

The real marvel is that those moments keep coming even when the characters’ lives on stage could not be more boring and pointless.

This Three Sisters is the triumph of subjectivity over reality. We might not see that inner world but we most definitely see its effects.

In the end, however, some ways of life are meant to pass away, no matter how painful the process. As the walls of the family estate creep forward, and that which was once considered a luxurious life becomes clearly a bespeckled façade, the mind begins to accept the truth.

The idle class, drunk on inherited wealth and pretense, what will they do when that pretense becomes what it is, a pretense?

Irina proclaims near the end that she will work to help the less fortunate class.

Ironically, such a proclamation means Irina will work to help herself, for she has now joined that same class: no longer pretending she is simply less fortunate.

Running Time: Three hours with one intermission

Three Sisters plays through April 30, 2017, at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater—2700 F St NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

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