‘Three Sisters’ now playing in Vasey Theatre

Christine Guerrini

In the realm of the world’s greatest playwrights, Anton Chekhov is one of Shakespeare’s closest contenders. His insightful stories delve into the roots of human existence, and his works transcend categories. Over 100 years after he wrote “Three Sisters,” Chekhov still manages to capture the overwhelming senses of love, loss, despair and hope that all people experience at some point in their lives.

To be chosen by Villanova Theatre to open its 2007 season, “Three Sisters” had to meet a number of tough criteria.

“Choosing a season is very complex. There are a multitude of agendas . . . a lot of things to juggle,” director Harriet Power said.

She said four main criteria are considered in selecting plays: good roles for students, plays that invokes passion in the director, balance between different periods and genres and productions that will be meaningful to the University community.

“Three Sisters” is a play that embodies all these criteria.

On the page, Chekhov draws a close-knit community of friends, siblings and newcomers. Muddling through their daily lives in a calm and unexciting town, the close circle is disrupted by the arrival of a new military colonel. The complacency of a less-than-satisfying life conflicts with the budding attraction between two married characters, and the viewer’s imagination is ignited.

Reading the text and even watching a traditional stage interpretation takes patience. The progression of the play can be slow-moving. Many of the nuances of the storyline can be lost in a traditional version. But in Vasey Theatre, the play is anything but slow.

Fast-talking, emotional and true in their portrayal of a close circle, the actors of “Three Sisters” are phenomenal. The cast embodies the characters far better than most of us could interpret the play on our own. Line delivery is well-timed and executed. The sentiments are expressed through the mouth, the eyes and the body. This three-dimensional approach adds much to the audience’s experience of the play.

The talent within the cast is wonderful, ranging from sophomore business student Matt Mykityshyn (Fedotik) and graduate student Grace Armstrong (Olga) to former Villanova faculty member David Whalen (Vershinin). And no matter their role, small or large, all the performers commit to consistent portrayals of their characters. The audience notices the personal change within them as they are affected by circumstances.

In her role as Masha, actress Jessica Dal Canton goes from complete despair to love-induced optimism after meeting Vershinin. Her shy smiles and sideways glances, followed by her new behavior around others, are direct reflections of her growth. Likewise, Marcie Bramucci beautifully portrays changes in her character Natasha’s personality. During her first appearance on stage, she is bubbly yet unsure, almost embarrassed. But, by Act 2, Canton begins to carry her body in a more confident manner and also uses facial expressions and voice intonation to create a sense of a self-absorbed and controlling attitude.

Apart from individual performances, the cast interaction also succeeded. The embraces, kisses and other small gestures appeared heartfelt rather than staged. When Bohdan Senkow (Chebutykin) picks up Jared Nelson (Andrei) from behind and bounces him, there is not a moment of hesitation or a hint of stiffness. Power said that the cast bonded during rehearsals. Whalen even served as a theatre professor for some of the cast members, creating a strong relationship off-stage.

However, the actors and director are not the only elements of the production that deserve praise. The set and fashion design are superb.

“[It is] important for the play to be set in the period, down to the last chair,” Power said.

All of the furniture looks authentic. Small touches, such as family photographs, loose flowers and trinkets on the piano add to the feeling of home.

The costumes, too, are intricate and time-true. Laura Papay (Irina) begins the play in a pure white gown, shining with innocence. Yet, as she grows, her outfits become more adult and mundane, accentuating her feelings of boredom at work. Canton’s dresses, on the other hand, are wonderfully tragic, chosen in shades of black and gray with purple accents. Not only do they complement the 1900 fashions, but they also reveal things about her character’s personality. As the play progresses, Canton’s attire becomes more and more relaxed, exemplifying Masha’s mood and relaxed sexual attitude toward her adulterous affair.

Power praised designer Charlotte Cloe Fox Wind.

“[Wind] wanted to honor the period in clothes, but she allowed for more relaxed styles when it felt helpful,” she said. “It gets at the essence of the character. Showing a little more skin can accentuate the sensuality.”

Chekhov created characters with tremendous potential for audience sympathy. Their trials and tribulations speak to us on a deep and personal level. But the actors to maximize that potential. Through the dedication of the cast and crew and passionate attention of Power, this goal was achieved. While Kulygin (Jarad Mitchell Benn) may have told Masha that she “get[s] an F- in conduct,” Villanova Theatre’s production of “Three Sisters” certainly deserves an “A.”

“Three Sisters” will be performed Feb. 7 -18 in Vasey Theatre. Show times are 8 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Student tickets are $7 and non-student tickets are $18-$24, which can be purchased at the box office in Vasey Theatre.