Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010

Windfall's Three Sisters

Period Drama With An Impressive Cast

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Windfall Theatre’s Three  Sisters is an engrossing tragicomedy marred by few significant flaws. As the play opens, the audience surrounds a few pieces of period-esque furniture. There are a few characters in attendance. We’re here to watch them, but the very casual and organic feel to the production brilliantly downplays the intensity of the drama at the outset of the play. This allows for the character’s stories to slowly settle-in it a gradual pace. Stray bits of dialogue begin to float across the intimate space at Village Church Arts and the drama sets-in. Anton Chekhov’s clever early 20th century critique on the lives of the leisure class begins to take form.

With a few minor distractions around the edges, the Windfall ensemble is a really impressive collection of talent. Carol Zippel, Amy Hansmann and Bethany Ligocki play the eldest, middle and youngest Prozorov sisters. Zippel’s Olga appears considerably more advanced in age than the other two, which is a bit of a distraction from an otherwise satisfying center for the action of the play. Zippel makes for a very maternal older sister to Masha and Irina. Much of the more tragic end of the three sisters comes in the form of the feelings of middle sister Masha. Amy Hansmann is well-suited to the tragic emotional center of the story. Busying himself with quite a few different plots, Chekhov doesn’t give Masha much room to work with as far as rendering romantic feelings for battery commander Vershinin (Robert W.C. Kennedy,) but Hansmann does a really good job of fitting the entire lifespan of a love affair in between all of the rest of what’s going on. A suitably brilliant actor himself, Kennedy renders the complexity of his end of the love affair with a subtle complexity.

Much of what Chekhov is delivering here is, of course, a comic critique of the wealthy. Much of this manifests itself in the performance of Bethany Ligocki as youngest sister Irina. Completely free of ironic tone, Ligocki speaks of a deep yearning to work. She’s positively bursting with energy and desperately wants to join the working class. In the wrong hands, the comedy of this could’ve overpowered much of the rest of what’s going on onstage. Thankfully, Ligocki manages a very earnest performance that adds a bit of perspective to the rest of what’s going on. In four acts, we  see her identity evolve with respect to her feelings for life, passion and labor.

The  darker end of the class comedy comes out in the performance of Liz Mistele in the role of Natasha—wife of the three sisters’ brother (played by Ken Williams with remarkable gravitas.) Natasha enters the story as a nervous, socially awkward woman. By the end of the play, we see her personality change dramatically.  Mistele executes this transformation brilliantly. As always, her body language is as crucial to the success of her performance as is her delivery of the dialogue. At one point, Hansmann’s Masha makes joking reference to Natasha walking as though she had set fire to the block. It’s a line delivered right after Mistele had crossed the stage. Mistele’s performance has the kind of intensity that brings life to a line like that.

The rest of the cast assembled here features a lot of interesting performances. Notably impressive among them are Tom Dillon and Thomas Rosenthal as Tuzenbach and Solyony, respectively. Dillon’s casual sense of authority as the lieutenant creates an interesting dynamic with Rosenthal’s memorably heated performance as a feisty captain with serious anger management issues. The dynamic there has a huge effect on the rest of the story, but Director Maureen Kilmurry does such a good job of moving around all of Chekhov’s plot elements that it all mixes together that no one element of the play every feels overpoweringly dramatic. It’s all very natural.

Windfall Theatre’s production of Three Sisters runs through February 27th at Village Church Arts on 130 East Juneau Avenue.


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