Slipstream’s ‘Three Sisters’ offers mix and match performances
FERNDALE, Mich.–In what could be considered a feat of theatrical accomplishment, three of the four actors in Three Sisters have learned all three parts and are interchangeable on any given night.
This isn’t because they are each other’s understudies. Instead, it’s up to the audience at each performance to select who will play which sister. The actors don’t know until five minutes before they go onstage. They can’t even get dressed until the audience selection is made, since each character has her own unique and well-suited color of dress, as specified by the play’s author, Anton Chekhov.
The story is about a dying class and women struggling to adapt to their changing roles in society. Although the play first premiered in Moscow in 1901, the theme line doesn’t feel dated, in fact it feels quite current.
In this new adaptation, the male characters have been removed and their interactions with and reactions to the women are simply read by the narrator. It allows for a more intimate focus on the women and their relationship with each other, through thick and thin, although what the men have to say is quite revealing, so the narration is critical.
Irena, the youngest sister and the birthday girl at the beginning of the play, wears white. It’s fitting since she is the most upbeat and psychically “pure” of the three sisters. At 20, she is still optimistic, idealistic and has a frolicking energy about her, as evidenced from the minute she prances onto the stage.
Olga, the spinster school teacher, is 28 at the play’s beginning. She wears blue and exudes prim and properness. Sadly, she has become a little uptight and jaded. She knows her life isn’t the most fun. She resists becoming the school’s headmaster, as if knowing that it would seal her fate.
Masha, who is 23 when the play began, married too young and is obviously bitter about it. She wears a sexy black dress, with the neckline pulled down off the shoulders. She is angry about her loveless marriage to a man who turned out to be far dumber than she realized.
On this past Saturday night, there was a tie between two of the possible character selections which required a tie-breaker vote by the audience members. As it turned out, Tiaja Sabrie played Irena, Katlyn Valor Bourque appeared as Olga and Luna Alexander (who is also Slipstream associate artistic director) was cast as Masha.
Perhaps it’s a testament to the strong acting skills by all threee of the women, but each of them are extremely well suited for their characters. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Alexander playing Masha. She allows the audience to still be sympathetic to the moody and self-absorbed character. Her emotional range is astounding.
One other character in the play — Natasha, who is also the narrator — is consistent at all performances. Victoria Rose Weatherspoon gives a noteworthy portrayal of the “fourth sister,” the girlfriend and then wife of the brother of the three sisters. At first, she’s sympathetic when she is shunned and made fun of by the three sisters. However, as the plot line continues, it becomes obvious that there’s a reason they act like “mean girls” around her. She is difficult and demanding and a controlling conniver.
The simple set is designed by Ryan Ernst, who also designs the lights. One central feature is a large trunk that exudes a mysterious purple light when the sisters open it to take significant items in and out. The stage is surrounded on all four sides by the audience. The intimate space really lends itself to the subject matter, and the audience is often left feeling like voyeurs, with such deep-felt emotions playing out just inches away from the seats.
The costumes and direction are by Bailey Boudreau, with Izzi Eyles serving as assistant director.
The 85-minute play runs without an intermission, but it goes by very quickly. Although there are dark moments, the play is not depressing. You would think a Russian play that is over 100 years old would be more academic. However it definitely isn’t because human emotions don’t change much over time. We are all still struggling with the things we have always struggled with. This production yields much food for thought.