The Three Sisters

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Anton Chekhov wrote plays that don’t entertain so much as they build character. They can be remarkably refreshing when done well, but full as they are of people who talk a lot and do very little, they’re hard to do well.

BYU’s production of “The Three Sisters” precariously walks the line between dull and compelling. You’d expect a play that takes place at the bottom of a well to be dark and claustrophobic; by the same token, no one should be surprised that a play about people who are bored is, in fact, a little boring. That it’s “a little” and not “a lot” is a victory already.

Directed by Barta Heiner, who can direct actors like nobody’s business, “The Three Sisters” is about the well-off Prozoroff family of Russia, circa 1900. The three sisters are school teacher Olga (Susan Keller), bored housewife Masha (Jessica Mockett) and pretty young thing Irina (Erin Chambers). Their parents are dead. Their brother, Andrei (Jon Liddiard, with padding to make him look “stout” that instead makes him look ridiculous), marries the socially awkward Natasha (Eve Speer), who starts popping out babies and taking over the household.

And through it all, they want to go back to Moscow, whence they came, for surely THERE they will be happy. The uselessness of such an attitude — ignoring potential happiness in the present while looking for imagined happiness in the future — is the play’s major theme.

In terms of personalities, there is little distinction made among the three sisters: They are all listless, unsatisfied and unhappy. The performances are good, but I found myself liking the actresses more than the characters.

Jessica Mockett has some riveting moments with Jesse Harward, who plays an idealistic local soldier as tired of his marriage as Masha is of hers. Eve Speer’s shrill outbursts as the class-conscious Natasha also provide some electricity, and R. Jeremy Selim is sympathetic as a soldier courting Irina. Reese Phillip Purser is also worthy of mention for his mature, convincing work as the alcoholic old doctor Chebutykin.

The show’s emotional connection with its audience is tenuous at best. The last act consists largely of characters crying over the various frustrations their lives have brought them, but very little of it hits home. The acting is strong enough to make us like these people, but perhaps not enough to make us truly care.

Should you go? If you like Chekhov, yes. If you don’t like Chekhov, this won’t convert you.

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