Theatre review: Three Sisters finds little common ground

Rumour has it that when the idea of mounting a professional production of Three Sisters in Vancouver for the first time in 30 years was first floated, actors came begging at director Jane Heyman’s door to be a part of the production.

With an astounding 100 Jessie award nominations and 30 wins between them, the cast of The Only Child Collective production currently on stage at The Cultch is as decorated as they are talented and no doubt the stuff of wet dreams for any serious Vancouver theatre-goer.  But even as this cast flexes its collective acting muscles, losing oneself inside Chekov’s classic story is difficult.

In this world premiere adaptation from Vancouver playwright Amiel Gladstone based on Anton Chekov’s original Russian script, Three Sisters tells the story of the Prozorov siblings who yearn to return to their former life in Moscow, after finding themselves stuck in a small provincial town.  Speaking to the decline of the privileged class of the time, the three find their hopes of a return to their privileged lives more unlikely in the new modern world that is quickly encroaching.

The three sisters (Manami Hara, Emma Slipp, Rachel Aberle) are studies in contrasts and speaks volumes to Chekov’s ability to recognize the diversity that is contained within a family and director Heyman herself goes a step further in that exploration of diversity with the colour-blind casting of Tokyo-born Hara as Olga, who brings a steadfast resolve to her character.  As the youngest of the trio, Aberle is effective as Irina, able to turn her emotions on a dime as a moody girl just out of her teens and Slipp’s Masha at times simply drips with delicious passion.

Among the men, Bob Frazer brings an elegance and contradictory roguish vulnerability to Vershinin in a layered performance and Alex Rose finds depth in his role as the often overlooked and forgotten brother.

Bob Frazer and Emma Slipp in The Only Child Collective production of Three Sisters.  Photo by Emily Cooper.
Bob Frazer and Emma Slipp in The Only Child Collective production of Three Sisters.  Photo by Emily Cooper.

As an admitted neophyte to this particular Chekov piece, despite some terrific performances there are few opportunities to find common ground with the trials and tribulations of these spoiled siblings teetering on the edge of class oblivion.  Even as the show’s PR machine insists there is relevance here as Vancouver finds itself in the throes of its own class conflict in the Downtown Eastside over gentrification, it fails to fully resonate.

Last night I tweeted that Three Sisters was the stage equivalent of a turn-of-the-century “chick flick”, a comment that will no doubt generate a few eye rolls from the more serious theatre devotees.  But with its central story of three strong female protagonists with elements of love, romance, intrigue (and even a duel), Three Sisters is a great date night for those that love the classics.

3 Out of 5 StarsThree Sisters

By Anton Chekhov. Adapted by Amiel Gladstone. Directed by Jane Heyman.  A The Only Child Collective production.  On stage at The Cultch’s Culture Lab through April 20, 2013.  Visit http://www.thecultch.com for tickets and information.

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