Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Three Sisters
and No Sisters
Studio Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Ragtime


Bridget Flanery, Emilie Krause, and
Caroline Hewitt in Three Sisters

Photo by Teresa Wood
Studio Theatre in Washington never shies away from large theatrical gestures, but its concurrent productions of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters and Aaron Posner's rejoinder No Sisters constitute both an astonishing stunt and an experiment that pays off.

In the first-floor Mead Theatre, a talented company directed with grace by Jackson Gay performs Chekhov's work in a crystalline translation by Paul Schmidt that eliminates the fustiness that may accompany a play first performed in 1901. However, while the sisters hold the stage downstairs, eight of the supporting performers are rushing back and forth to the second-floor Milton Theatre to tell the stories Chekhov didn't give them.

Simply as an exercise, this is daunting: eight actors not only had to learn two roles (or two versions of the same role), but have to switch back and forth between them in mid-performance—and the timing must be exact or one of the shows can't go on. Scenic designer Daniel Conway has incorporated several video screens into the No Sisters set so the actors don't miss their Three Sisters cues. It sounds like theater as an extreme sport, but it's exhilarating to experience from the audience.

So, what can one say about the productions themselves? This Three Sisters stresses the humor in the interplay among people who think they know what they want but can't focus on getting it. Radiant young Irína (Emilie Krause) talks about how work is the purpose of a fulfilling life, but then she actually goes to work and finds it isn't what she expected. Oldest sister ólga (Bridget Flanery) is stoic, doing her best as a teacher and knowing she is underappreciated. Másha (Caroline Hewitt) is in a stifling marriage to an adoring but boring man (Todd Scofield) and finds a temporary respite with a married soldier (Greg Stuhr).

While the portrayals of the sisters are fine, the performances that really sparkle are Craig Wallace as the aging army doctor who loves the young women as if they were his own daughters and Kimberly Gilbert as Natásha, who marries the sisters' older brother Andréy (Ryan Rilette) and goes from insecure small-town girl to domineering lady of fashion.


Nancy Robinette and Ryan Rilette in No Sisters
Photo by Teresa Wood
No Sisters, on the other hand, frees the minor characters from the constraints of their early 20th-century lives in provincial Russia. Nancy Robinette glows as Anfísa, the sisters' elderly nanny, recounting the small moments of her life and how quickly the years have passed, and the antagonistic soldier Solyóny (Biko Eisen-Martin) can finally show how his anger and frustration aren't that different from the buried feelings of the people around him. Whether this play can stand on its own without its antecedent isn't obvious.

Conway's scenic designs echo the different worlds of the two plays, with a simple setting downstairs dominated by birch trees and plank paneling and, upstairs, what Posner describes as "a weird-ass existential Chekhovian green room" crammed with makeup areas, prop storage, a snack table, and other backstage minutiae.

Studio Theatre
Three Sisters
March 8th - April 23rd, 2017
In the Mead Theatre
By Anton Chekhov, translated by Paul Schmidt
Directed by Jackson Gay
Andréy Prózorov: Ryan Rilette
His sisters:
ólga: Bridget Flanery
Másha: Caroline Hewitt
Irína: Emilie Krause
Natásha, Andréy's fiancée, later wife: Kimberly Gilbert
Kulýgin, Másha's husband, a high-school teacher: Todd Scofield
Vershínin, colonel, battery commander: Greg Stuhr
Baron Túzenbach, first lieutenant: Ro Boddie
Solyóny, captain: Biko Eisen-Martin
Chebutýkin, army doctor: Craig Wallace
Fedótik, second lieutenant: William Vaughan
Rohde, second lieutenant: Josh Thomas
Ferapónt, a porter at the County Council: Nick Torres
Anfísa, the Prózorovs' nurse: Nancy Robinette
Maid: Daven Ralston

and

No Sisters March 16th - April 23rd, 2017
In the Milton Theatre
Written and directed by Aaron Posner
Solyóny: Biko Eisen-Martin
Túzenbach: Ro Boddie
Fedótik: William Vaughan
Andréy: Ryan Rilette
Natásha: Kimberly Gilbert
Kulýgin: Todd Scofield
Anfísa: Nancy Robinette
Young Woman: Daven Ralston
Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-332-3300 or www.studiotheatre.org


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