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Broadway World: Review: THREE SISTERS at Two River Theater Brings Anton Chekhov's Classic Play to New Heights

by Marina Kennedy

“For us, for my sisters and me, life has not been beautiful.” By Irina in Three Sisters

The Two River Theater playwright-in-residence, Madeleine George has collaborated with director Sara Holdren to create a stunning new translation of Anton Chekhov’s beloved classic, Three Sisters. You’ve never seen the theatrical piece done like this before. The show is highlighted with popular modern music along with many other clever touches. The production will surely bring new audiences to the Red Bank venue to view Chekhov’s masterpiece.

Author and playwright, Anton Chekhov crafted Three Sisters in 1900, and it was first performed at the Moscow Arts Theatre in 1901. Themes of a changing society, concerns for the future, discontent, and personal longings endure. While the play was written at the turn of the 20th Century and set in the Russian countryside, the TRT production states that the time period is “Always.”

Director Sarah Holdren commented, “We want to introduce this play to new audiences and reintroduce it to old ones by putting out a hand and saying, come with us – this isn’t a museum piece. It isn’t even truly a period piece. It’s a playground and a rock concert and a comedy and a tragedy. Welcome aboard.”

Three Sisters tells the compelling story of Olga, Masha, and Irina who have hopes of leaving their provincial, rural home to live in Moscow. Olga is a primary school teacher, Masha is dissatisfied with her marriage, and Irina, the youngest of the three, has high hopes for romance and a satisfying work life. When the story opens, it is the first anniversary of their father’s death, and the mood is somewhat somber. As the story unfolds, you’ll get to know the many colorful characters in the play through fascinating discourse and their engagement with each other.

Scenes move quickly with inventive staging techniques and contemporary music. Well-selected songs include “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads; “Alone” by Heart; “I wish I was on the Moon” by Neko Case; and “The Show Must Go On” by Queen. The music brings a dazzling element to the production rarely seen in classic theatre.

The talented actors bring Three Sisters to life with both humor and pathos. The company includes Alex Brightwell as Andrey; Nemuna Ceesay as Irina; Olivia Haney as Young Masha; Anna Ishida as Olga; Annelise Lawson as Masha; Kelly Letourneau as Natasha; Gabriel Levey as Kulygin; Rami Margron as Vershinin; Quinn McManus as Young Irina; Mary Neufeld as Chebutykin; Nick Ong as Fedotik/Ferapont; Diana Osorio as Young Olga; Niall Powderly as Solyony; Rudy Roushdi as Tuzenbach; Regan Sims as Rohde/Anfisa; and Amaia Arana is the Understudy for Irina. To round out the story additional characters are portrayed with realistic life-size puppets.

Memorable moments abound in show that include Irina’s excitement about her 20th birthday; Kulygin talking about his role as a teacher; Andre proposing to Natasha; Tuzenbach speaking about the value of work; Vershinin and Masha declaring their love for each other; the carnival party being turned away; Sisters, Olga, Masha and Irina sharing their feelings; and Chebutykin’s farewell to the family.

The creative team has done a top job of bringing Three Sisters to the stage. They include choreographer Chloe Treat; scenic designer Jean Kim; costume designer Fabian Fidel Aguilar; co-lighting designers Emma Deane and Caitlin Smith Rapoport; co-sound designers Kate Marvin and Caroline Eng; wig designer Carissa Thorlakson; puppet co-designers and fabricators Emma Wiseman and Nick Lehane; and intimacy coordinator Cha Ramos. The music arranger is Daniel Schlosberg and the marching band coordinator is Heather Ewer. The production stage manager is Colt Luedtke and Assistant Stage Manager is Mandy Scott.

Whether you are new to the works of Anton Chekhov or a long time admirer of his writings, visit Two River Theater now through June 26th to see their boldly entertaining production of Three Sisters.

Two River Theater is located at 21 Bridge Avenue, Red Bank, NJ 07701. Three Sisters has a run time of 3 hours with one 15-minute intermission. Single tickets for the show are on sale at https://tworivertheater.org/ or 732.345.1400. Prices range from $40 to $70, with discounts available for groups, seniors, and U.S. military personnel, their families, and veterans. A limited number of $25 tickets are available for every performance; $25 tickets may be partial view. Tickets for patrons under 30 are $25 and include the best available seats at every performance.