Cover of first edition, published 1901 by Adolf Marks
|Written by||Anton Chekhov|
|Characters||Prozorov family: |
|Setting||A provincial Russian garrison town|
Three Sisters (Russian : Три сeстры́, romanized: Tri sestry) is a play by the Russian author and playwright Anton Chekhov. It was written in 1900 and first performed in 1901 at the Moscow Art Theatre. The play is sometimes included on the short list of Chekhov's outstanding plays, along with The Cherry Orchard , The Seagull and Uncle Vanya .
The play has several important characters who are talked about frequently, but never seen onstage. These include Protopopov, head of the local Council and Natasha's lover; Vershinin's suicidal wife and two daughters; Kulygin's beloved superior the headmaster of the high school and Andrey and Natasha's children Bobik and Sofia. JL Styan contends in his The Elements of Drama that in the last act Chekhov revised the text to show that Protopopov is the real father of Sofia: "The children are to be tended by their respective fathers"—Andrey pushes Bobik in his pram, and Protopopov sits with Sofia.
Act one begins with Olga (the eldest sister) working as a teacher in a school, but at the end of the play she is made headmistress, a promotion in which she had little interest. Masha, the middle sister and the artist of the family (she was trained as a concert pianist), is married to Feodor Ilyich Kulygin, a schoolteacher. At the time of their marriage, Masha, younger than he, was enchanted by what she took to be wisdom, but seven years later, she sees through his pedantry and his clownish attempts to compensate for the emptiness between them. Irina, the youngest sister, is still full of expectation. She speaks of her dream of going to Moscow and meeting her true love. It was in Moscow that the sisters grew up, and they all long to return to the sophistication and happiness of that time. Andrei is the only boy in the family and the sisters idolize him. He is in love with Natalia Ivanovna (Natasha), who is somewhat common in relation to the sisters and suffers under their glance. The play begins on the first anniversary of their father's death, but it is also Irina's name-day, and everyone, including the soldiers (led by the gallant Vershinin) bringing with them a sense of noble idealism, comes together to celebrate it. At the very close of the act, Andrei exultantly confesses his feelings to Natasha in private and fatefully asks her to marry him.
Act two begins almost a year later with Andrei and Natasha married with their first child (offstage), a baby boy named Bobik. Natasha is having an affair with Protopopov, Andrei's superior, a character who is mentioned but never seen onstage. Masha comes home flushed from a night out, and it is clear that she and her companion, Lieutenant-Colonel Vershinin, are giddy with the secret of their mutual love for one another. Little seems to happen but that Natasha manipulatively quashes the plans for a party in the home, but the resultant quiet suggests that all gaiety is being quashed as well. Tuzenbach and Solyony both declare their love for Irina.
Act three takes place about a year later in Olga and Irina's room, a clear sign that Natasha is taking over the household as she asked them to share rooms so that her child could have a different room. There has been a fire in the town, and, in the crisis, people are passing in and out of the room, carrying blankets and clothes to give aid. Olga, Masha and Irina are angry with their brother, Andrei, for mortgaging their home, keeping the money to pay off his gambling debts and conceding all his power to his wife. However, when faced with Natasha's cruelty to their aged family retainer, Anfisa, Olga's own best efforts to stand up to Natasha come to naught. Masha, alone with her sisters, confides in them her romance with Vershinin ("I love, love, love that man."). At one point, Kulygin (her husband) blunders into the room, doting ever more foolishly on her, and she stalks out. Irina despairs at the common turn her life has taken, the life of a municipal worker, even as she rails at the folly of her aspirations and her education ("I can't remember the Italian for 'window'."). Out of her resignation, supported in this by Olga's realistic outlook, Irina decides to accept Tuzenbach's offer of marriage even though she does not love him. Chebutykin drunkenly stumbles and smashes a clock which had belonged to the Prozorov siblings' late mother, whom he loved. Andrei then vents his self-hatred, acknowledges his own awareness of life's folly and his disappointment in Natasha, and begs his sisters' forgiveness for everything.
In the fourth and final act, outdoors behind the home, the soldiers, who by now are friends of the family, are preparing to leave the area. A flash-photograph is taken. There is an undercurrent of tension because Solyony has challenged the Baron (Tuzenbach) to a duel, but Tuzenbach is intent on hiding it from Irina. He and Irina share a heartbreaking delicate scene in which she confesses that she cannot love him, likening her heart to a piano whose key has been lost. Just as the soldiers are leaving, a shot is heard, and Tuzenbach's death in the duel is announced shortly before the end of the play. Masha has to be pulled, sobbing, from Vershinin's arms, but her husband willingly, compassionately and all too generously accepts her back, no questions asked. Olga has reluctantly accepted the position of permanent headmistress of the school where she teaches and is moving out. She is taking Anfisa with her, thus rescuing the elderly woman from Natasha.
Irina's fate is uncertain but, even in her grief at Tuzenbach's death, she wants to persevere in her work as a teacher. Natasha remains as the chatelaine, in charge and in control of everything. Andrei is stuck in his marriage with two children, the only people that Natasha cares about, besides herself. As the play closes, the three sisters stand in a desperate embrace, gazing off as the soldiers depart to the sound of a band's gay march. As Chebutykin sings Ta-ra-ra-boom-di-ay to himself,Olga's final lines call out for an end to the confusion all three feel at life's sufferings and joy: "If we only knew... If we only knew."
The play was written for the Moscow Art Theatre and it opened on 31 January 1901, under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. Stanislavski played Vershinin and the sisters were Olga Knipper (for whom Chekhov wrote the part of Masha), Margarita Savitskaya as Olga and Maria Andreyeva as Irina. Maria Lilina (Stanislavski's wife) was Natasha, Vsevolod Meyerhold appeared as Tusenbach, Mikhail Gromov as Solyony,Alexander Artyom as Artem Chebutykin, Ioasaf Tikhomirov as Fedotik, Ivan Moskvin as Rode, Vladimir Gribunin as Ferapont, and Maria Samarova as Anfisa.
Reception was mixed. Chekhov felt that Stanislavski's "exuberant" direction had masked the subtleties of the work and that only Knipper had shown her character developing in the manner the playwright had intended. In the directors' view, the point was to show the hopes, aspirations and dreams of the characters, but audiences were affected by the pathos of the sisters' loneliness and desperation and by their eventual, uncomplaining acceptance of their situation. Nonetheless the piece proved popular and soon it became established in the company's repertoire.
|24 May 1965||BBC Home Service||John Tydeman||English translation by Elisaveta Fen; adapted for radio by Peter Watts; cast included Paul Scofield, Lynn Redgrave, Ian McKellen, Jill Bennett, among others|
|29 September 1979||The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon||Trevor Nunn||Version by Richard Cottrell|
|28 March 1990||Gate Theatre, Dublin and Royal Court Theatre, London||Adrian Noble||Version by Frank McGuinness with real-life sisters in the title roles: Sinéad Cusack as Masha, Sorcha Cusack as Olga and Niamh Cusack as Irina. Their father, Cyril Cusack played Chebutykin.|
|30 August – 13 October 2007||Soulpepper Theatre, Toronto||László Marton||Version by Nicolas Billon|
|November 2008||Regent's Canal, Camden, London.||Tanya Roberts||An adaptation by the Metra Theatre|
|29 July – 3 August 2008||Playhouse, QPAC, Brisbane||Declan Donnellan||Chekhov International Theatre Festival (Moscow), part of Brisbane Festival 2008|
|5 May 2009 – 14 June 2009||Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland||Jon Kretzu||Adapted by Tracy Letts|
|12 January – 6 March 2011||Classic Stage Company, NYC||Austin Pendleton||Real-life husband and wife actors Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard starred.|
|14 February – 8 March 2020||The Bindery, San Francisco||Angie Higgins||Starring Marcia Aguilar|
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian playwright and short-story writer who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history. His career as a playwright produced four classics, and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics. Along with Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, Chekhov is often referred to as one of the three seminal figures in the birth of early modernism in the theatre. Chekhov practiced as a medical doctor throughout most of his literary career: "Medicine is my lawful wife", he once said, "and literature is my mistress."
This article contains information about the literary events and publications of 1901.
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The Moscow Art Theatre production of The Seagull in 1898, directed by Konstantin Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, was a crucial milestone for the fledgling theatre company that has been described as "one of the greatest events in the history of Russian theatre and one of the greatest new developments in the history of world drama." It was the first production in Moscow of Anton Chekhov's 1896 play The Seagull, though it had been performed with only moderate success in St. Petersburg two years earlier. Nemirovich, who was a friend of Chekhov's, overcame the writer's refusal to allow the play to appear in Moscow after its earlier lacklustre reception and convinced Stanislavski to direct the play for their innovative and newly founded Moscow Art Theatre (MAT). The production opened on 29 December [O.S. 17 December] 1898. The MAT's success was due to the fidelity of its delicate representation of everyday life, its intimate, ensemble playing, and the resonance of its mood of despondent uncertainty with the psychological disposition of the Russian intelligentsia of the time. To commemorate this historic production, which gave the MAT its sense of identity, the company to this day bears the seagull as its emblem.
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Winter Dreams is a one-act ballet choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan to piano pieces by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky selected and arranged by Philip Gammon and traditional Russian music selected and arranged for guitar and mandolin ensemble by Thomas Hartman. With scenery and costumes designed by Peer Farmer and lighting designed by Clive Thomas, it was first presented by The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, London, on 7 February 1991.
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This adaptation of the Russian masterpiece was commissioned by Artists Rep as part three of its four-part Chekhov project. Letts gives us a fresh, new look at the decay of the privileged class and the search for meaning in the modern world, through the eyes of three dissatisfied sisters who desperately long for their treasured past.
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