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Shows Worth Seeing:

Three Sisters

By Anton Chekov
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St., Brooklyn

To those who like their Chekhov realistic and explained, Lev Dodin’s Maly Theater Three Sisters, visiting from St. Petersburg, will be an irritation and a letdown. If you know the play well, however, and are open to mixing things up with some symbolism and other non-realistic staging techniques, the production will offer you many beauties. It does contain quite a bit of realism, as it happens. The costumes, sparse props and furniture, and the actors’ personal mannerisms are all in the Moscow Art Theater tradition. But the stage environment is dominated by a stand-alone, defenestrated front façade of a house, which moves back and forth throughout as if it were ultimately determined to expel its cultured occupants, like a cough. Various characters wedge themselves into the empty window shells, wander about in the black void behind, frame themselves in the narrow doorway, pose on the simple approach-steps—all, so it seems, in an effort to physicalize the play’s heartbreaking themes of inertia and movement, insight and self-delusion, deliberate kindness and passive cruelty. Dodin takes a purposefully critical view of the action: no one can ever be comfortable in this luxurious house whose misfit residents think they have a haven, protected from the worst of their backwater Russian town, until they find they are badly mistaken. Fascinatingly, no one is demonized in this interpretation, not vulgar Natasha, not even homicidal Solyony, who is depicted as more hapless than vicious. There is a coolness to all the abstraction but there is warmth in its use, and the Maly ensemble is exquisitely attuned to the play’s world. This Three Sisters is certainly not for everyone. But what really good Chekhov ever is?

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