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 4 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
    Website: www.berkeleyrep.org
    Review by Clinton Stark
    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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