Three Sisters (play)

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Three Sisters
Three Sisters cover 1901.jpg
Cover of first edition, published 1901 by Adolf Marks
Written by Anton Chekhov
CharactersProzorov family:
  • Olga Sergeyevna Prozorova
  • Maria Sergeyevna Kulygina
  • Irina Sergeyevna Prozorova
  • Andrei Sergeyevich Prozorov
Date premiered1901 (1901), Moscow
Original languageRussian
GenreDrama
SettingA provincial Russian garrison town
Chekhov in a 1905 illustration. Anton Tschechow.jpg
Chekhov in a 1905 illustration.

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 often included on the shortlist of Chekhov's outstanding plays, along with The Cherry Orchard , The Seagull and Uncle Vanya . [1]

Contents

Characters

The Prozorovs

The soldiers

Konstantin Stanislavski as Vershinin Stanislavski as Vershinin.jpg
Konstantin Stanislavski as Vershinin

Others

Unseen characters

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 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. [2] [3]

Synopsis

Act I

Olga (the eldest sister) has worked as a schoolteacher and after school tutor for four years. Masha, middle sister and artist of the family (trained as a concert pianist), is married to Feodor Kulygin, a schoolteacher. Masha, younger than he, was enchanted by his wisdom but seven years later she sees through his pedantry and attempts to compensate for the emptiness between them. Irina, the youngest sister, is still full of expectation, speaking of going to Moscow and meeting her true love. The sisters grew up in Moscow, and they all long to return to the happiness of that time. Andrei is the only young man in the family; his sisters adore him. He falls in love with Natalia Ivanovna ("Natasha"), who is rather "common" compared to the sisters and regarded by them with disdain. The play begins on the first anniversary of the death of their father, Sergei Prozorov. It is also Irina's name-day, and everyone, including the soldiers (led by Vershinin) bringing with them a sense of noble idealism, come together to celebrate it. At the close of the act, Andrei confesses his feelings to Natasha, and proposes.

Act II

Almost a year later, Andrei and Natasha are married with their baby (offstage), a son named Bobik. Natasha is having an affair with Protopopov, Andrei's superior, who is 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 their mutual love for one another. Natasha manipulatively quashes the plans for a party in the home; the resultant quiet suggests that happiness is being quashed as well. Tuzenbach and Solyony both declare their love for Irina.

Act III

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 a room so that Bobik could have a separate room. There has been a fire in the town, and people are passing in and out, carrying materials to give aid. Olga, Masha and Irina are angry with Andrei for mortgaging their home without their knowledge or consent, keeping the money to pay off his gambling debts and ceding all power over the household to Natasha. Natasha is cruel to the aged family retainer, Anfisa, but Olga's best efforts to counter this fail. Masha, alone with her sisters, tells them of her romance with Vershinin. At one point, Kulygin blunders into the room, doting foolishly on Masha, and she leaves. Irina despairs at the turn her life has taken, the life of a municipal worker, and rails at the folly of her aspirations. Supported by Olga's realistic outlook, Irina decides to accept Tuzenbach's offer of marriage although she does not love him. Andrei vents his self-hatred, acknowledges his awareness of his folly and his disappointment in Natasha, and begs his sisters' forgiveness for everything.

Act IV

The soldiers are preparing to leave the area. A photograph is taken. There is tension because Solyony has challenged Tuzenbach to a duel. Solyony had told Irina that he would kill any successful suitor for her hand, but she still agreed to marry Tuzenbach, notwithstanding which she confesses that she cannot love him. Tuzenbach, having left the Army, is under no obligation to agree to the duel but does so anyway, losing his life for what would have been a loveless marriage. 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 compassionately asks that they start again. 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, rescuing the elderly woman from Natasha.

Irina's fate is uncertain but, even in her grief at Tuzenbach's death, she wants to persevere as a teacher. Natasha remains as the chatelaine, in charge of everything. Andrei is stuck in his marriage with two children, unwilling and unable to do anything for his wife or himself. As the play closes, the three sisters stand in a desperate embrace, gazing off as the soldiers depart to the sound of marching music. As Chebutykin sings Ta-ra-ra-boom-di-ay to himself, [nb 1] Olga's final lines seek an end to the confusion the sisters feel at life's sufferings and joy: "If we only knew... If we only knew."

Premiere

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, [nb 2] Alexander Artyom as Artem Chebutykin, Ioasaf Tikhomirov as Fedotik, Ivan Moskvin as Rode, Vladimir Gribunin as Ferapont, and Maria Samarova as Anfisa. [4] [5]

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. [6] [7]

Notable productions

DatesProductionDirectorNotes
22 June 1964 Actors Studio Lee Strasberg New English version by Randall Jarrell; cast included Geraldine Page, Kim Stanley, Shirley Knight, Robert Loggia, Kevin McCarthy among others [8]
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 [9]
29 September 1979 The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon Trevor Nunn Version by Richard Cottrell [10] with Suzanne Bertish as Masha, Emily Richard as Irina and Janet Dale as Olga. [11]
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, TorontoLászló MartonVersion by Nicolas Billon
November 2008 Regent's Canal, Camden, London.Tanya RobertsAn adaptation by the Metra Theatre [12]
29 July – 3 August 2008Playhouse, QPAC, Brisbane Declan Donnellan Chekhov International Theatre Festival (Moscow), part of Brisbane Festival 2008
5 May 2009 – 14 June 2009 Artists Repertory Theatre, PortlandJon KretzuAdapted by Tracy Letts [13]
12 January – 6 March 2011 Classic Stage Company, NYCAustin PendletonReal-life husband and wife actors Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard starred, alongside Jessica Hecht and Juliet Rylance. [14]
14 February – 8 March 2020The Bindery, San FranciscoAngie HigginsStarring Marcia Aguilar [15]

Adaptations

Notes

  1. Contemporary audiences would have recognised this song, from 1892, as Chebutykin's ironic reference to the doomed affair between Masha and Vershinin — Rayfield, Donald (2005). Gottlieb, Vera (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Chekhov. London: Routledge. p. 210. ISBN   9780521589178.
  2. According to N. Efros Leonid Leonidov played Solyony. He took up this part indeed, but only after 1903, when he joined Moscow Art Theatre. Coincidentally, Leonidov did play Solyony during the 1900/1901 season too, but as part of the Odessa-based Solovtsov Troupe. – Leonodov's biography at the Moscow Art Theatre site.

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References

  1. Harold Bloom (31 October 2003). Genius (Reprint ed.). Grand Central Publishing. ISBN   978-0446691291.
  2. Styan, John L. (1960). The Elements of Drama. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p.  209. ISBN   0-521-09201-9.
  3. Three Sisters Act 4, Julius West's translation: "NATASHA: Mihail Ivanitch Protopopov will sit with little Sophie, and Andrei Sergeyevitch can take little Bobby out. ... [Stage direction] ANDREY wheels out the perambulator in which BOBBY is sitting."
  4. Efros, Nikolai (2005). Gottlieb, Vera (ed.). Anton Chekhov at the Moscow Art Theatre . London: Routledge. p.  15. ISBN   978-0-4153-4440-1.
  5. Commentaries to Three Sisters (Russian) // Чехов А. П. Полное собрание сочинений и писем: В 30 т. Сочинения: В 18 т. / АН СССР. Ин-т мировой лит. им. А. М. Горького. — М.: Наука, 1974—1982. / Т. 13. Пьесы. 1895—1904. — М.: Наука, 1978. — С. 117—188.
  6. Allen, David (2000). Performing Chekhov . London, UK: Routledge. pp.  27–28. ISBN   978-0-4151-8934-7.
  7. Hingley, Ronald (1998). Five Plays . Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. xix. ISBN   978-0-192-83412-6.
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  13. "Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Tracy Letts". Artists Repertory Theatre . Retrieved 26 October 2009. 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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