Three Sisters

Austin Pendleton's production has a star-laden cast and an Americanized translation by Paul Schmidt.

Classic Stage Company, New York

(866) 811-4111


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This intimate, star-laden new production of a Chekhov classic “glows with modern energy,” said Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly. As the play’s often-disappointed Prozorov sisters, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Juliet Rylance, and Jessica Hecht tackle Chekhov’s forever-timely story with “a youthful vigor” that makes the dreariness of their lives in small-town Russia “that much more poignant.” Gyllenhaal “makes a vividly interesting” Masha, the “artistic middle sister” whose lackluster marriage leads her to an affair with an army officer, played here by Gyllenhaal’s husband, Peter Sarsgaard. The casting stunt allows sparks to fly. But it’s not just movie-star glamour that makes this tragicomedy about “hopes and plans falling apart” feel so contemporary.

Director Austin Pendleton hasn’t done anything especially innovative, said Terry Teachout in The Wall Street Journal. He’s simply juxtaposed “a traditional-looking setting” with a group of actors who look and sound unmistakably modern. “The results are interesting but very uneven.” Gyllenhaal is miscast here, having a “demeanor and voice so obviously contemporary as to jolt the eye and ear.” The same goes for Paul Schmidt’s “deliberately American-sounding” translation of the script. While it’s a relief not to have Chekhov subjected to yet another “wannabe-British staging,” it’s distracting when dialogue is so colloquial that you fear the next line could be, “Dude, who moved my samovar?”

Yet the Americanized language “allows the performers to slide into their parts more naturally than they might otherwise,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. Sure, the approach creates a few “anachronistic jolts,” but “the dividends are considerable.” From the sisters to the servants, every role “feels equally life-size,” and a strong emotional current runs between the characters. Rylance’s “poised, melodious” turn as the youngest sister contrasts with Hecht’s spinsterish Olga and Gyllenhaal’s “brooding, restless” Masha. Yet because all are portrayed so vibrantly, their ultimately defeated dreams of happiness “truly break your heart.” (Through March 6)

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