Three Sisters (play)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Three Sisters
Three Sisters cover 1901.jpg
Cover of first edition, published 1901 by Adolf Marks
Written byAnton Chekhov
Characters

Prozorov family:

  • Olga Sergeyevna Prozorova
  • Maria Sergeyevna Kulygina
  • Irina Sergeyevna Prozorova
  • Andrei Sergeyevich Prozorov
Date premiered1901 (1901)
Original languageRussian
GenreDrama
SettingA provincial garrison town in Russia
IBDB profile
 
Jump to: navigation, search
Three Sisters
Three Sisters cover 1901.jpg
Cover of first edition, published 1901 by Adolf Marks
Written byAnton Chekhov
Characters

Prozorov family:

  • Olga Sergeyevna Prozorova
  • Maria Sergeyevna Kulygina
  • Irina Sergeyevna Prozorova
  • Andrei Sergeyevich Prozorov
Date premiered1901 (1901)
Original languageRussian
GenreDrama
SettingA provincial garrison town in Russia
IBDB profile
Chekhov in a 1905 illustration.

Three Sisters (Russian: Три сeстры, translit. Tri sestry) is a play by the Russian author and playwright Anton Chekhov, perhaps partially inspired by the situation of the three Brontë sisters.[1] It was written in 1900 and first performed in 1901 at the Moscow Art Theatre.

Characters[edit]

The Prozorovs[edit]

The soldiers[edit]

Stanislavski as Vershinin

Others[edit]

Unseen characters[edit]

The Three Sisters has a great number of important characters that are talked about frequently, but never seen. These include Protopopov, head of the local Council and Natasha's lover; Vershinin's suicidal wife and two daughters; and Andrey and Natasha's children Bobik and Sofia. J. L. 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.[3][4]

Plot[edit]

Act I[edit]

Act one begins with Olga (the eldest of the sisters) working as a teacher in a school, but at the end of the play she is made Headmistress, a promotion she had no interest in. 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 asks her to marry him.

Act II[edit]

Act two begins about 21 months later with Andrei and Natasha married with their first child (offstage), a baby boy named Bóbik. 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. The play turns on such subtle, lifelike touches. Tuzenbach and Solyony declare their love for Irina.

Act III[edit]

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 servant 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 schoolteacher, 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 on and smashes a clock belonging to the sisters' and Andrei's mother, whom he loved. Andrei gives vent to his self-hatred, acknowledges his own awareness of life's folly and his disappointment in Natasha's character, and begs his sisters' forgiveness for everything.

Act IV[edit]

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 more of Natasha's blunt cruelties. 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. ("What is this fork doing here?" Natasha hollers.). Andrei is stuck in his marriage with two children, the only people that Natasha truly dotes on. 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."

Theme[edit]

Three Sisters is a naturalistic play about the decay of the privileged class in Russia and the search for meaning in the modern world. It describes the lives and aspirations of the Prozorov family, the three sisters (Olga, Masha, and Irina) and their brother Andrei. They are a family dissatisfied and frustrated with their present existence. The sisters are refined and cultured young women who grew up in urban Moscow; however for the past eleven years they have been living in a provincial town.

Chekhov's initial inspiration was the general life-story of the three Brontë sisters, i.e., their refinement in the midst of provincial isolation and their disappointment in the expectations they had of their brother Branwell.

Moscow is a major symbolic element: the sisters are always dreaming of it and constantly express their desire to return. They identify Moscow with their happiness, and thus to them it represents the perfect life. However as the play develops Moscow never materializes and they all see their dreams recede further and further. Meaning never presents itself and they are forced to seek it out for themselves.

Premiere[edit]

The work was written for the Moscow Arts Theatre and it opened on 31 January 1901, under the direction of Constantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. Stanislavsky acted Vershinin and the sisters were Olga Knipper (for whom Chekhov wrote the part of Masha), Margarita Savetskaya as Olga and Maria Andreyeva Irina. Maria Lilina (Stanislavsky's wife) was Natasha, Vsevolod Meyerhold appeared as Tusenbach, Leonid Leonidov was Solyony and Alexander Artem Chebutykin.[5] Reception was mixed: Chekhov felt that Stanislavsky's "exuberant" direction had masked the subtleties of the work, and only Knipper had shown her character developing in the manner the playwright had intended. In the director's 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[edit]

DatesProductionDirectorNotes
May 24, 1965BBC Home ServiceJohn TydemanEnglish translation by Elisaveta Fen; adapted for radio by Peter Watts; cast included Paul Scofield, Lynn Redgrave, Ian McKellen, Jill Bennett, among others[8]
29 September 1979The Other Place, Stratford-upon-AvonTrevor NunnVersion by Richard Cottrell[9]
August 30 -
October 13, 2007
Soulpepper Theatre, TorontoLászló MartonVersion by Nicolas Billon with László Marton[10]
July 29 -
August 3, 2008
Playhouse, QPAC, BrisbaneDeclan DonnellanChekhov International Theatre Festival (Moscow), part of Brisbane Festival 2008[11]
May 5, 2009 -
June 14, 2009
Artists Repertory Theatre, PortlandJon KretzuAdapted by Tracy Letts[12]
Jan 12 - March 6, 2011Classic Stage Company, NYCAustin PendletonMaggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard star.[13]

Divadlo na Fidlovačce[edit]

Video from Three Sisters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjSBgkZt9K8

Steppenwolf Theatre Company[edit]

Video from Steppenwolf website: http://www.steppenwolf.org/Plays-Events/productions/index.aspx?id=531

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rayfield, Donald (1997). "Three Sisters". Anton Chekhov: A Life. London: Harper Collins. p. 515. ISBN 978-0-0025-5503-6. 
  2. ^ Oxquarry Books[dead link]
  3. ^ Styan, John L. (1960). The Elements of Drama. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 209. ISBN 0-521-09201-9. 
  4. ^ 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."
  5. ^ Efros, Nikolai (2005). Gottlieb, Vera, ed. Anton Chekhov at the Moscow Art Theatre. London: Routledge. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-4153-4440-1. 
  6. ^ Allen, David (2000). Performing Chekhov. London: 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. ^ Paul Scofield: Radio and Spoken Word 1960s-1970s from scofieldsperformances.com
  9. ^ Gottlieb, Vera. "Select stage productions". The Cambridge Companion to Chekhov. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 255. ISBN ‪978-0-521-58117-86 Check |isbn= value (help). 
  10. ^ http://www.soulpepper.ca/productions/2007/play_6.html[dead link]
  11. ^ http://www.brisbanefestival.com.au/e_threesisters.html[dead link]
  12. ^ "Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Tracy Letts". Artists Repertory Theatre. Retrieved October 26, 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." 
  13. ^ Brantley, Ben (February 3, 2011). "‘Three Sisters,' Classic Stage Company - Review". The New York Times. 
  14. ^ Wolf, Matt (27 May 1990). "Theater: Novel Casting for 'Three Sisters' - Three Sisters". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-06-16. 
  15. ^ Taylor, Paul (January 27, 2010). "Three Sisters, Lyric, Hammersmith, London". The Independent (London). 
  16. ^ Brennan, Clare (September 18, 2011). "We Are Three Sisters – review". The Guardian (London). 

External links[edit]