Theater Review: Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters” at the Arden Theatre


Left to right: Sarah Sanford, Mary Tuomanen and Katherine Powell. Photo by Mark Garvin.

The world premiere of a new translation of The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, playing at the Arden Theatre until April 20, is a vibrant, well-acted, well-directed production that should not be missed this season.  

Chekhov’s influential story about a family’s unrealized aspirations was translated by Curt Columbus, and is directed by Terrence J. Nolen.

“Chekhov isn’t easy — there’s not a tried and true method to make his work speak to modern audiences,” stated Nolen, Arden’s producing artistic director. “But no other playwright speaks more eloquently to the essence of the human condition, and that challenge is irresistible to me as a director.”  

Through research, workshops, readings, and travel, the play is the culmination of a two-year exploration of the master storyteller’s work that took the theater company from Moscow to Providence, Rhode Island to Philadelphia.

More after the jump.

“The Three Sisters” was originally performed at the Moscow Theatre in 1901. It is a classic four-act drama that examines the lives of the three Prozorov sisters and their brother Andrei, who have lived for 11 years in a small provincial town, where their late father had commanded a brigade. Unsuited for provincial life, the sisters long to return to Moscow, their childhood home and idealized haven.  

Although there is not a single Jew among these characters, there is something profoundly heimish in Chekhov’s play, as Diane Samuels wrote in the Jewish Quarterly:

No Jew would have inhabited this social milieu. And yet the sense of community, the emotional highs and lows, the ill-tempered humor, the corny asides, the affection, the melodrama, the poignancy, the hope, the despair, all — as actress Tracy-Ann Oberman insightfully noted when she first mentioned to me that she hoped to find a writer ready to take up the challenge of writing a Jewish version of the play — smack of something very Jewish indeed. Maybe it is the Russian background.

Still, a leap was required to find a way of extrapolating the Jewishness out of Chekhov.

This moving production’s most innovative turn takes place in the first act. We are watching a play within a play, as the actors seem to be having a dress rehearsal for a play, which is being videotaped as we watch it. Refreshingly disconcerting, the clever technique works, and by the time we get to the second act we are in the play itself, but the intimations of the video and the sense of life being a dress rehearsal linger.  

All three “sisters” are outstanding in their respective roles: Katherine Powell as Masha, the sardonic, restless middle sister; Sarah Sanford as Olga, the oldest sister; and Mary Tuomanen as Irina, the youngest sister.  

Lt. Colonel Alexander Vershinin, portrayed by Ian Merrill Peakes, is the play’s philosopher:

There will come a time when everybody will know why, for what purpose, there is all this suffering, and there will be no more mysteries. But now we must live… we must work, just work!

Fine. Since the tea is not forthcoming, let’s have a philosophical conversation.  

Chekhov might not have been Jewish but he speaks to the human condition in this sad, poignant play that embraces all of life: from the boredom of marriage to the ravages of war, from the hopes of youth to the regrets of the middle age. Near the end of the play, Vershinin reflects on that:  

In two or three hundred years life on earth will be unimaginably beautiful, amazing, astonishing. Man has need of that life and if it doesn’t yet exist, he must sense it, wait for it and dream of it, prepare to receive it, and to achieve that he must see and know more than our grandfathers and fathers saw or knew.  


The full cast of “Three Sisters.” Photo by Mark Garvin.

In “The Three Sisters,” Chekhov has written a masterwork that doesn’t reduce life to easy platitudes or resolutions, but captures the fleeting nature of life in four acts that the Arden’s production staff honors in its bold new production.

Single ticket prices are between $36 and $48, with discounts available for seniors, students, military and educators. Groups of 15 or more enjoy significant discounts. Main stage subscriptions are on sale for between $84 and $135.

For tickets, call the Arden’s box office at 215-922-1122, order online, or visit the box office at 40 N. 2nd Street in Old City, Philadelphia.

Post-show discussions will be held following the performances on March 30 at 2 p.m., April 3 at 8 p.m., April 9 at 6:30 p.m., April 13 at 2 p.m., and April 16 at 6:30 p.m.

Romney’s Foreign Policy Views “Downright Dangerous”

— by Max Samis

Over the course of his presidential run, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has made some outlandish comment on foreign policy, including that he would “do the opposite” of President Barack Obama on Israel, and that Russia is the United States’ “number one geopolitical foe.” Romney has earned condemnations from multiple public officials for his statements, including from Vice President Joe Biden and former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell. In addition, the Los Angeles Times found last month that despite his heated rhetoric, Romney has yet to offer any specifics of what he would do differently than Obama-especially on Iran.

Now, Romney’s policies have been examined by Fred Kaplan, a noted foreign policy expert and writer for Slate. Kaplan’s judgment? That “Romney doesn’t seem to understand – nor do some of his advisers – the extent to which the world has changed since the end of the Cold War,” and that his “statements on foreign policy range from vague to ill-informed to downright dangerous.”

Highlights of Kaplan’s article follow the jump.

Conventional wisdom holds that U.S. presidential elections do not hinge on foreign policy. On this point, conventional wisdom is almost certainly correct. But it shouldn’t be, for two reasons. First, foreign policy is the one realm in which presidents can do pretty much what they want. (Congress may rant at some action but rarely halts it.) Second, in this election in particular, Mitt Romney’s statements on foreign policy range from vague to ill-informed to downright dangerous.

Does Romney believe the things that he’s said about arms control, Russia, the Middle East, the defense budget, and the rest? Who can say? He has no experience on any of these issues. But his advisers do; they represent, mainly, the Dick Cheney wing of the Republican Party (some, notably John Bolton, veer well to the right of even that). While not all presidents wind up following their advisers, Romney has placed his byline atop some of his coterie’s most egregious arguments-not least, several op-ed pieces against President Obama’s New START with Russia, pieces that rank as the most ignorant I’ve read in nearly 40 years of following the nuclear debate…

Romney doesn’t seem to understand-nor do some of his advisers-the extent to which the world has changed since the end of the Cold War. International politics were never as cut and dried as that era’s image suggested-two superpowers, each dominating its sphere of the globe and competing for influence at the margins of the other’s domain…

Which leads to Romney’s final complaint: that Obama’s foreign policies ‘have not communicated American strength and resolve.’ It’s not clear what Romney means by this; he cites no examples. The one case in which he had to concede Obama did well-ordering the killing of Bin Laden-certainly communicates more strength and resolve than anything Bush did on that front. To the extent America’s image has been tarnished under Obama’s presidency, the main reason has to do with what some see as an excess of ‘strength and resolve’-the quintupling of drone attacks launched against targets in Pakistan, Sudan, and Somalia under Bush.

Which leads to some questions: What is Romney’s position on drone strikes? What’s his position on Afghanistan? During the Republican debates, he once said that his position was not to negotiate with the Taliban but to defeat them. What does that mean? Does he want to keep tens of thousands of U.S. troops there after NATO’s 2014 deadline? To what end? Doing what? He also once said that military spending should consume at least 4 percent of gross domestic product. Obama’s most recent military budget ($525 billion, not counting the cost of the war in Afghanistan) amounts to 3 percent. So Romney intends to raise the budget by one-third, or by about $175 billion a year-by more than $1 trillion in the next six years. Where is he going to get the money? What’s he going to spend it on? No details. None.

Is Romney an extremist? Or, in keeping with the GOP approach to politics in general these days, has he simply calculated that it’s best not to agree with Obama on anything? Either way, one thing is clear: He is not a serious man.

Click here to read the full article.

Romney: “Any President Would Have Done That”

Mitt Romney, quoted by Reuters in 2008, on the United States entering Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden:

“I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours… I don’t think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort.”

Romney on MSNBC yesterday, downplaying credit for Obama for ordering the raid in Pakistan that finally killed Osama bin Laden:

“I think other presidents and other candidates like myself would do exactly the same thing.”