Theater Review: ‘Three Sisters’ lulls

Per Berkeley Rep's standards, the acting is once again superb. James Carpenter is always extraordinary. Be sure to do what I do, and seek out every one of his performances - they are timeless gems, over and over again.

James Carpenter, Thomas Jay Ryan, Heather Wood and Bruce McKenzie perform Sarah Ruhl’s new adaptation of Three Sisters at Berkeley Rep. Photo courtesy of mellopix.com
James Carpenter, Thomas Jay Ryan, Heather Wood and Bruce McKenzie perform Sarah Ruhl’s new adaptation of Three Sisters at Berkeley Rep. Photo courtesy of mellopix.com
In Review

Three Sisters

2.5 out of 5 stars
2.5 out of 5 stars - 'Comme ci, comme ça'
Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Thrust Stage
Directed by Les Waters
By Anton Chekov
Through May 22, 2011
www.berkeleyrep.org
Review by
James Carpenter, Thomas Jay Ryan, Heather Wood and Bruce McKenzie perform Sarah Ruhl’s new adaptation of Three Sisters at Berkeley Rep. Photo courtesy of mellopix.com
James Carpenter, Thomas Jay Ryan, Heather Wood and Bruce McKenzie perform Sarah Ruhl’s new adaptation of Three Sisters at Berkeley Rep. Photo courtesy of mellopix.com

I’m not quite sure what to make of Three Sisters at Berkeley Rep. On the one hand it’s simply beautiful to behold, with absolutely marvelous lighting, and a set that envelopes us and whispers, “art in progress.” But then there’s the tedium of watching three privileged Russian women whine, pontificate, and perform no-so-exciting tasks such as reading books, doing laundry and making lunch. Meanwhile, the gentlemen in their lives perpetually philosophize, which might be a tad more interesting if it wasn’t just the same suffer-now/joy-later diatribe.

To say it’s difficult to relate to any of these characters would be an understatement. That I’m possibly a minority in that view I’m perfectly willing to admit. There is a keen sense of wit and intellect in much of the dialog, agreed. And the characters here are absolutely unique, and, as they say, sharply drawn. Solyony (Sam Breslin Wright), quirky and unpredictable, brings a dash of absurdity to the proceedings and those moments are most welcome, breaking the otherwise mundane.

“A man cannot breathe in any case when a brown bear comes and sits on his face.”

I full realize that Anton Chekhov remains a playwright of great importance, and that admitting his material — despite a modern adaptation by Sarah Ruhl — goes over this viewer’s head is tantamount to blasphemy and / or revelation of great ignorance. But if we’re considering the entertainment factor, then sadly it’s mostly absent.

Hope is essential to these lost souls of 19th century Perm. They dream of idyllic Moscow, 800 miles away, and a city where strangers are friendly. The three sisters struggle with their identities, and their love-lives. Relationships decay. Moscow to them represents perfection, but here in Perm, “it’s all the same.”

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“Life is unchanging. It is constant.”

Per Berkeley Rep’s standards, the acting is once again superb. James Carpenter is always extraordinary (be sure to do what I do, and seek out every one of his performances – they are timeless gems, over and over again). Again his chiseled marionette-like features, sly, bellowing voice are utterly watchable as Chebutykin, the doctor. In one scene he returns from fighting a fire, and, after soaking himelsef, nearly drowning himself, delivers a very memorable monologue.

Alex Moggridge (Andrei) appears to be an actor on the rise. He continues to deliver impressive performances. I last saw him in a devilish lead role in Boeing-Boeing at Center Rep, and before that as the local barternder in the SJ Rep’s haunting The Weir.

Slightly amusing that Keith Reddin (Kulygin) channels a bit of Stephen Colbert, replete with navy pin-stripe suit!

The set is another work of stunning craftsmanship. Berkeley Rep knows how to do hard-wood flooring. The finishing is through-and-through astonishing: the creaking of the planks, the soaring birch trees, the rich detailing of the home.

You get the impression that if the Godfather series was ever brought to the stage, Berkeley Rep would be the first to produce it. Thankfully, in this rapid-fire world of memes and tweets, we have a theater undeterred, and fully willing to go deep, often-times bringing us lengthy, stimulating material (e.g. Afghanistan: The Great Game), perhaps even against broad commerical interests. On this evening, however, it was the set (and direction) and the acting that triumphed. The Chekhov classic lulled this viewer. I left perplexed; empty, definitely unmoved, despite the apparently universal themes.

Three Sisters
Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Thrust Stage
By Anton Chekov
2.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Les Waters
Through May 22, 2011
www.berkeleyrep.org

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  • Berkeley Rep fan

    This was my first Chekhov experience, and from what I gather there are two camps with Chekhov – folks either love it, or as you did, think otherwise. I, for one, was fascinated and throughout the performance could not help thinking how well-timed this production was with what our current national circumstances are. Like, the three sisters, I too am waiting for an idealized world to materialize. They think that life would be different, if only they could return to Moscow. I think life would be different, if we could only have a functioning legislature. Yet, here we are, stuck. Everyone is talking, pontificating, and yes, whining, but we are not moving forward or changing anything. Those are the parallels that I saw and which kept me engaged. It was a very reflective piece. Who are we? What is it to be human and why all the navel gazing?

    • Well said. Very good point regarding parallels with our contemporary times. My first Chekhov experience too. Thanks for your viewpoint and dropping by!

  • Goldie N Locks

    “…goes over this viewer’s head.”
    This summarizes your review…sad that you can’t see nor understand the beauty of the human experience as reflected in this wonderful adaptation of Chekhov.

    For all of those who love theatre, this is one you can’t miss!

    • Dear Goldilocks – when did you become so sophisticated?! What you say is most definitely true, but then again you must realize that not all us mere mortals can relate to 3 russian women living in exile in Perm, despite the abundance of vodka. But this is what I love about theater (“-er”) – it is the discussion that counts! The bitter Russian winter frost also made me long for Moscow… er, I mean Ottawa. Respectfully, Three N Bears.