Theater Review - From Russia with love

Synchronicity Performance Group’s staging of Three Sisters plays tourist in Chekhov’s Russia and only rarely stumbles across the real thing. Director Rachel May and her ensemble fare fine with the kind of two-role exchanges in which emotional connections are either thrillingly made or tragically lost. But the more crowded moments, the kind that convey the playwright’s worldview and way of life, often elude the production.

Dutiful Olga (Stacy Melich), moody Masha (Hope Mirlis) and idealistic Irina (Jessie Andary) make up the trio of the title. All seek to escape their dreary lives in a provincial town, yet all are fated to see their aspirations dashed by life’s compromises. The sisters’ social circle includes their frustrated, intellectual brother (Brit Whittle) and the dashing, cultivated troops of the local garrison.

Chekhov frequently puts declarative statements about airy ideas in the mouths of his characters — which sound stilted in this Synchronicity production. As the romantic, melancholy Vershinin, Jayson Smith is best at evoking the abstract. When he muses on life in subsequent centuries, it’s as though he’s nostalgic for the future. Vershinin’s affair with the married Masha brings out the complexities in Mirlis’ performance, which moves from dour isolation to girlish excitement, and back again.

The production — which runs in repertory with Anton Acts Out, a program of short original plays inspired by Chekhov — is undeniably interested in finding a fresh angle on Three Sisters. But Synchronicity’s technological touches are misguided. The sound design proves too busy, and the use of a video projector — imposing “exterior shots” or extreme close-ups over the entire set — pays off not at all. Director May and actors such as Melich lack the comfort level they reliably bring to contemporary material. In trying to engage with Three Sisters, they often seem separated from the playwright, as if by an iron curtain.

Three Sisters plays in repertory through Dec. 8 at the Back Stage of 7 Stages, 1105 Euclid Ave. Wed.-Fri. 8 p.m.; Sat. 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m. $15-$18. 404-284-1151.