Trios of powerful female siblings resonate deeply in Western culture: The Graces; The Furies; and the Prozorovas from the imagination of theater giant Anton Chekhov, in 1901. Over the past century, his Three Sisters has been multiply produced, adapted, mocked, referenced in any number of films and books, and — notably for Cup-A-Jo Productions here — re-imagined by American playwright Richard Alfieri in 1995 as The Sisters.
Set in modern Manhattan, Sisters digs out the secrets of the title characters. None of that Chekhovian subtle ambiguity here. Olga, Marcia and Irene (yes, the names are pretty much the same as in the original) also draw heavily from those aforementioned sets of sisters, with an extra dollop of the nastier ones. The company bills the show as a modern retelling “with live music, wine and naked aggression.” Cellist Maighread Southard-Wray delivers the first item, and director Art Deconciliis the last.
The intimate but non-theatrical venue (the second-floor gallery of Carnegie’s Andrew Carnegie Free Library) provides some challenges, but nothing the cast can’t handle. The spotlight is on the women. Company founder/artistic director Joanna Lowe fires up the passion and witty vitriol of the middle sister (“the pretty one”) while winning sympathy. Gayle Pazerski maintains the coldness of the eldest (“the smart one”) with hints of her pains and loves. As “the baby” and the most different from Chekhov’s creation, Jenny Malarkey strips down innocence to a manipulated ignorance. In a surprising move, the outsider/sister-in-law Nancy (originally Natasha) is sluttish but smart, a combination that Jessie Goodman makes credible.
The men support the ladies well: Stanley Graham as the preppy cuckolded brother; Jason Spider Matthews as Marcia’s illicit squeeze; George Saulnier as the faithful old family friend; and fight choreographer Michael Petyak navigating the escalating violence between Olga’s rival lovers, the moody, hot-tempered Sokol (Everett Lowe) and the self-deprecating Terzin (Parag S. Gohel). For those keeping score at home, they’re respectively Andrey, Vershinin, Dr. Chebutykin, Solyony and the Baron.
Three Sisters was about a family trapped in the provinces and longing for cosmopolitan Moscow. Instead, The Sisters in the Upper East Side dream of a perfect life in Charleston. (Really? Charleston?) Which goes to show that it is character, not geography, that ensnares and imprisons the soul.