Three Sisters (play)

Last updated
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
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]



The Prozorovs

The soldiers

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


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]


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.


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."


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

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]



  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.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anton Chekhov</span> Russian dramatist and author (1860–1904)

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian playwright and physician who is considered to be one of the greatest writers of all time. 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 was a physician by profession. "Medicine is my lawful wife", he once said, "and literature is my mistress."

<i>The Seagull</i> 1895 play by Anton Chekhov

The Seagull is a play by Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov, written in 1895 and first produced in 1896. The Seagull is generally considered to be the first of his four major plays. It dramatizes the romantic and artistic conflicts between four characters: the famous middlebrow story writer Boris Trigorin, the ingenue Nina, the fading actress Irina Arkadina, and her son the symbolist playwright Konstantin Treplev.

<i>Eugene Onegin</i> (opera) Opera by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Eugene Onegin, Op. 24, is an opera in 3 acts, composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The libretto, organised by the composer himself, very closely follows certain passages in Alexander Pushkin's 1825–1832 novel in verse, retaining much of his poetry. Tchaikovsky's friend Konstantin Shilovsky contributed M. Triquet's verses in Act 2, Scene 1, while Tchaikovsky himself arranged the text for Lensky's arioso in Act 1, Scene 1, and almost all of Prince Gremin's aria in Act 3, Scene 1.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Olga Knipper</span> Russian and Soviet stage actress

Olga Leonardovna Knipper-Chekhova was a Russian and Soviet stage actress. She was married to Anton Chekhov.

<i>Three Sisters</i> (1970 film) 1970 British film

Three Sisters is a 1970 British drama film starring Alan Bates, Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright, based on the 1901 play by Anton Chekhov. Olivier also directed, with co-director John Sichel; it was the final feature film directed by Olivier. The film was based on a 1967 theatre production that Olivier had directed at the Royal National Theatre. Both the theatrical production and the film used the translation from the original Russian by Moura Budberg. The film was released in the U.S. in 1974 as part of the American Film Theatre. This was a series of thirteen film adaptations of stage plays shown to subscribers at about 500 movie theaters across the country.

Tatiana (Tatyana) Vasilyevna Doronina is a popular Soviet/Russian actress who has performed in movies and the theater. She is generally regarded as one of the most talented actresses of her generation and was named a People's Artist of the USSR in 1981.

Irina Ivanovna Alfyorova PAR is a Soviet and Russian actress. She was formerly married to Russian film and stage actor Aleksandr Abdulov, he adopted her daughter, Ksenia.

Elena Yuryevna Korikova is a Russian theater and television actress. She is known for her role of Anna Platonova in the television series Bednaya Nastya.

Three Sisters is a 1994 Russian film, based on Anton Chekhov's 1901 play of the same name. The movie was very successful in the former countries of the USSR and had one Nika Award nomination for the best cinematographer.

Moscow Art Theatre production of <i>The Seagull</i> 1898 production of a play by Anton Chekhov

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vitold Polonsky</span> Russian actor

Vitold Alfonsovich Polonsky was a Russian silent film actor.

The Three Sisters is a 1966 American drama film directed by Paul Bogart and starring Geraldine Page and Shelley Winters. It is based on the 1901 play by Anton Chekhov.

Prozorov (masculine) or Prozorova (feminine) is a Russian surname and may refer to:

The Three Sisters (<i>Play of the Month</i>) Episode of Play of the Month

"The Three Sisters" is a television play episode of the BBC One anthology television series Play of the Month based on the 1901 play of the same name by Anton Chekhov. It features Eileen Atkins, Janet Suzman and Anthony Hopkins, This version was directed by Cedric Messina.

<i>Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike</i> 2012 comedy play by Christopher Durang

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a comedy play written by Christopher Durang. The story revolves around the relationships of three middle-aged single siblings, two of whom live together, and takes place during a visit by the third, Masha, who supports them. They discuss their lives and loves, argue, and Masha threatens to sell the house. Some of the show's elements were derived from works of Anton Chekhov, including several character names and sibling relationships, the play's setting in a country house with a vestigial cherry orchard, the performance of an "avant-garde" play by one of the main characters, and the themes of old vs. new generations, real vs. assumed identities, the challenges of a woman growing older after successes in a career that seems to be ending, the hope and carelessness of youth, intrafamilial rivalries, and the possible loss of an ancestral home.

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Darya Moroz</span> Russian actress (born 1983)

Darya Yurievna Moroz is a Soviet and Russian film and stage actress, Honored Artist of Russia (2015). She is a two-time winner of the Nika Award. She is best known for starring in the TV series Gold Diggers.

<i>Tri sestry</i> (opera)

Tri sestry is a 1998 opera by Péter Eötvös to a Russian libretto by Eötvös and Claus H. Henneberg based on Anton Chekhov's play Three Sisters. It was the composer's first large-scale opera. The premiere at the Opéra National de Lyon, directed by Ushio Amagatsu, was conducted by Kent Nagano, who had commissioned the work. The production was then also shown in Paris, Brussels, and at the Wiener Festwochen festival in 2002. It became an opera played at several European opera houses including the Vienna State Opera in 2016 and the Oper Frankfurt in 2018.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maria Lilina</span> Russian stage actress

Maria Petrovna Alekseyeva was a Russian and Soviet stage actress, associated with the Moscow Art Theatre, better known under her stage name Lilina (Ли́лина). Konstantin Stanislavski, the MAT director, was her husband. In 1933 Lilina was designated as a People's Artist of the RSFSR.


  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.
  8. "The Three Sisters". Internet Broadway Database . Archived from the original on Apr 8, 2023. Retrieved 2 August 2023.
  9. "Paul Scofield Audio Performances (radio drama, Audio Books, Spoken Word)". Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  10. Gottlieb, Vera (9 November 2000). "Select stage productions". The Cambridge Companion to Chekhov. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p.  255. ISBN   978-0-521-58117-2.
  11. "Three Sisters". Retrieved 26 February 2024.
  12. "The Three Sisters |London Reviews July-December 2008 | Fringe Review | Fringe Theatre Reviews". Archived from the original on 3 February 2014. Retrieved 14 January 2022.
  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.
  14. Brantley, Ben (3 February 2011). "'Three Sisters', Classic Stage Company – Review". The New York Times.
  15. "Utopia Theater Project (Drama, Plays, Spoken Word)". Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  16. 1942 play review,; accessed 26 January 2015.
  17. Wolf, Matt (27 May 1990). "Theater: Novel Casting for 'Three Sisters'". The New York Times . Retrieved 16 June 2012.
  18. Theatre Alba Edinburgh Festival Fringe Programme, August 1999
  19. Billington, Michael (10 November 2003). "Why do so many directors mess around with the classics?". Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  20. ""Trei surori" cam jucause ale lui Afrim: ZIUA". Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  21. "Ghidusiile lui Afrim". Observator Cultural. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  22. "Miruna Runcan: Polemica eşuînd în nisip (II)". Archived from the original on 2014-07-06.
  23. Taylor, Paul (27 January 2010). "Three Sisters, Lyric, Hammersmith, London" . The Independent . London. Archived from the original on 2022-05-07.
  24. Stoltenberg, John (20 March 2017). "Review: 'No Sisters' at The Studio Theatre". Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  25. "Three Sisters". Sydney Theatre Company. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
  26. "Three Sisters on Hope Street". Nick Hern Books . 2008. Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  27. Brennan, Clare (18 September 2011). "We Are Three Sisters – review". The Guardian . London.
  28. John Byrne's Three Sisters theatre programme, Tron Theatre Company, Glasgow, (2014)
  29. Green, Jesse (18 July 2019). "Review: Chekhov's 'Three Sisters,' Now with Upspeak and Emojis". New York Times. Retrieved 27 July 2022.
  30. Stasio, Marilyn (19 July 2019). "Off Broadway Review: 'Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow'". Variety. Retrieved 27 July 2022.