Review: ‘Three Sisters’ at Maly Drama Theatre at The Kennedy Center

Anton Chekhov’s classic play Three Sisters is being given a superb rendering by the Maly Drama Theatre (from St Petersburg, Russia) at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. Director Lev Dodin emphasizes the brittle, comic retort against the vagaries, interruptions, faded illusions and broken promises so prevalent in Chekhov’s world.

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

The authenticity of this introspective and mesmerizing play is enhanced by the play being performed in Russian with English subtitles by the prestigious Maly Drama Theatre. Director Lev Dodin creates theatrical fireworks with this work.

The inherent enigma and fascination of Three Sisters is that the individuals of Chekhov’s world have a cynical eye yet they carry on with the universal themes of work and struggle. Director Dodin and his cast portray the inhabitants of a provincial town that mirrors the entire human condition.

Director Dodin appropriately emphasizes the passing of time through the quixotic and elusive moments, transitions, and intermittent thoughts and longings of the characters. Chekhov’s characters ponder endlessly, wait anxiously and anticipate but it proves fruitless. As the line from the film Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean says, “Time is such a nebulous thing to wait for”.

During moments of seeming stasis, no major catharsis may happen but the minutiae of these daily lives encompass deeper longings of the heart.  Contradictions and enigmas proliferate throughout the play.

Such diverse plays as The Sisters Rosensweig by Wendy Wasserstein and Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley have been influenced by the trilogy of three sisters united in tragi-comedy, love and problems.

The Woody Allen films Hannah and Her Sisters and Interiors have also been influenced by Chekhov.

The entire ensemble cast uniformly possesses superb acting caliber. Due to the intriguing directorial enhancements of Director Dodin, this cast excels way above the usual acting prowess.

The standout performance among a bevy of standouts would have to be the Masha of Ksenia Rappoport who is alternately moody, whimsical, defiant and caustic. Ms. Rappoport’s scenes with her lover Vershinin (played by Igor Chernevich ) are beautifully played. Director Dodin knocks down the fourth wall by having much of the play take place on and around stairs near the apron of the stage with many of the actors coming down the aisles to appear on the stage. The intimacy of the play truly came alive with several groupings of the actors flowing on and off the stage –often at the center of the apron of the stage.

Elizaveta Boyarskaya’s Irina is a constant delight as she fluidly captures the emerging woman outgrowing the emotions of the youngest giddy and somewhat callow sister. The scenes of romance between Boyarskaya and Oleg Ryazanzev’s Nicolai Tuzenbach are deftly and sensitively delivered. Mr. Ryazanzev’s command of the stage was absolutely enthralling especially as he wooed Ms. Boyarskaya’s Irina.

Ekaterina Kleopina’s quasi-vulgar Natasha is wonderfully etche. Her scenes are never too obvious in their required haughtiness—Ms. Kleopina hits just the right “delicate balance” of characterization.

Alexander Bikovsky delivered a marvelously eccentric and audacious portrayal of Andrey Prosorov. As he whirled around the stage with abandon and ease, I could not take my eyes off him.

Sergey Vlasov’s portrayal of Feodor Kuligin was appropriately geared towards the traits of humility, tender-heartedness and ridiculous protestations so central to this character.

Irina Tychinina’s Olga was a dramatic anchor to the play and Alexander Koshkarev’s portrayal of Ferapont was a study in deadpan comic style.

The presentation of the dining scenes at the rear of the stage were very effective and well-lit by Lighting Designer Damir Ismagilov.

The stunning set design by Alexander Borovosky consisted of the façade of a 19th century country home some distance northeast of Moscow  Much of the action takes place in the doorways, windows and the space behind the façade utilized as a dining room ad function room. This was quite an effective way to conduct different conversations as there is divided space between the players. The steps in front of the stage as referred to earlier-served as a gathering place to welcome guests and share some intimate conversations All gathered there for group photographs and presentation of gifts such as the school pupils’ names book and the spinning top.

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

The costumes by Rafael Mamalimov were very appropriate for the 19th -century well -to-do European land owners.

This superior production emphasizes the fact that these individuals living in a provincial town during a changing social order still cling to a tenuous hope even amidst their vanished dreams.  The enigmatic ending never ceases to inspire a sense of mystery and hope.

The Maly Drama Theatre has given us a production of Three Sisters that is a fresh re-invigoration of a timeless classic.

Running Time: Three hours and 15 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.

Maly Drama Theatre’s Three Sisters plays through April  30, 2017, at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater – 2700 F Street, in Washington, DC.  For tickets call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

Spine: ‘Three Sisters’ by the Maly Drama Theatre at The Kennedy Center by Robert Michael Oliver.



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David Friscic
David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college to making numerous treks to New York City to indulge his interest in live theatre. An enthusiastic interest in writing has shown itself in a BA in English/Education and an MA in English Literature. Taken together, these two interests have culminated in the logical conclusion of writing for an arts blog. David moved up and down the East Coast due to his father's job at General Electric and this has helped him to perceive the world in a very open way. After his schooling, David taught in Catholic school systems for awhile and, then, spent three years in the seminary with two years at Catholic University studying Theology and one year in a practicuum working at a church in New York State. David currently works at the National Science Foundation as a Technical Information Specialist for the Office of Polar Programs and has had the great opportunity to go to Antarctica twice and Greenland once in support of the research community. He enjoys living in Bethesda and has taken courses at the Writer's Center. David enjoys swimming, traveling, reading, and working on committees at his condo. His major interest, however, is the arts and all it encompasses---from symphony, to film, to museum treks to live theatre. He counts having lunch with Lillian Gish and meeting Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli and Sandy Dennis as some of the more exciting encounters of his life.


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