Readers' theater Chekhov needs work
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
After several years of running a readers' theater season to complement its main stage productions, the Army Community Theatre has begun its first year dedicated to classic scripts.
But with Chekhov's "The Three Sisters," the group's reach has exceeded its grasp.
The moody character drama layered with subtext is given a rough reading by a cast of 14 — no doubling up on roles in this production — and could have made good use of more rehearsal time. Performances are often tentative and halting. While we get the gist of what's going on in the action, we miss much of what's going on in the characters.
That's too bad, because most of them travel paths with interesting beginnings, middles and ends.
Chekhov sets the 1901 drama in a provincial Russian town, where all the central personalities endure failed lives. They long to escape to Moscow, fantasizing that personal salvation from ordinariness lies in their return to the big city.
Olga is a spinster school teacher who would have married anyone who might have asked her. Masha did marry, but without love. And the youngest, Irina, believing that her chances for happiness are over at age 24, is likely to do the same.
Their brother Andrei is dominated by a shrewish wife who becomes more manipulative with the birth of each child.
Interestingly, the script's 1985 translation is by American playwright Lanford Wilson, known for realistic character dramas such as "The Hot L Baltimore," "The Fifth of July" and "Talley's Folly." It is said that Wilson's treatment of Chekhov's original text allows sympathy for all the characters — even those that are easy to dislike. Unfortunately, we don't get to know the characters well enough in this reading to develop strong feelings.
While the ACT reading directed by Stephanie Conching appropriately begins with a sigh and ends with a lament, it only touches the surface of the characters' submerged lives. We miss much of the subtext, the depth of their relationships, and the sense of the sisters' bonding within the greater community.
But the words, while blunt, are still potent.
"We become dull and boring, even before we've started to live."
"Our children become interchangeable walking dead, just like their mothers and fathers."
"Why life is painful — it's all the same — if we could only know."
Over four years and four acts, the characters deteriorate with time. Symbolically, even the family's ornamental clock breaks down.
Lurana O'Malley, Laura Bach Buzzel, and Kathy Hunter play the sisters of the title. Henry Wong III is the failed brother, and Hester Kamin reads the grasping sister-in-law.
In small supporting roles as Doctor and Nanny, Richard Pellett and Danel Verdugo bring animation to a production that sorely needs more of it.