Friday, May 4, 2012

A Musical Sprint Through Three Sisters

UWM presents a brisk adaptation of Chekhov's classic

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Sandra Strawn decorates the set in birch trees larger than loneliness. This is where UWM is staging Director Rebecca Holderness' Three Sisters. Strawn's set draws on the depth of UWM's main stage to bring a feel of immensity to the production. 

 

This is not Chekhov's Three Sisters as originally scripted. It's an adaptation of the script by UWM student Fly Steffens. Steffens abandons some of the political specifics present in the original script in favor of a story that focusses on the universals inherent in the personalities Chekhov was exploring in the original script. Some of the detail gets lost in favor of a more impressionistic interpretation of the story that is nevertheless solidly grounded in a heartbreaking realism. 

 

Caitlin Wolf is profoundly sympathetic in the role of Olga. By far the most compassionate of the three sisters, she comes across with a vivid strength. In the standard tradition of the script, she's the eldest sister. This university production has all three sisters looking more or less the same age, which eliminates the nagging element of birth order and relative ages. . . it's actually kind of a relief. Here we have three different people who are all distinct. The family element fades into the background and we're face with three different people and the people who they come into contact with. 

 

Cutting a good chunk of the script out, the production moves pretty briskly through a number of years. nowhere is the sprint through Chekhov more apparent than in Natalia Ivanova. At one moment someone's commenting on her green sash, the next moment she's married and ordering the banishment of aging household help Anfisa. It's a pretty shocking change and it marks one of the most dramatic moments in the production . . . the reason for this having a lot to do with the fact that Brittany McDonald is playing Anfisa. McDonald is a shimmering talent onstage . . . she recently played the lead in UWM's The Sins of Sor Juana back in October. Here she's magnetically charming as a spirited old maid with a sense of earthbound wisdom about her. When Brianna Borouchoff speaks ill of her and demands that Olgs get rid of her, there is a genuine sense of revulsion. It wouldn't be nearly so strong were it not such a solid performance on the part of Brittany McDonald. 

 

The rest of the ensemble have been assembled into a very textured production by Holderness. She's aided here by composer and musical director Bill Barclay. Music is woven into the production at key moments. At times it feels like a musical score and at times it feels like a classic American musical . . . kind of a weird juxtaposition against the text, which makes for a really novel sprint through Chekhov near the end of Spring. 

 

UWM Theatre's Three Sisters runs through May 6th at UWM's Mainstage Theatre. For ticket reservations, call 414-229-4308 or visit UWM online.

 

 

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