Any serious theater fan will recognize them instantly. There’s Irina, the youngest: she’s chirpy, good-hearted, naïve, and (if we’re being honest) a little annoying. Masha, the middle one, is sophisticated, glamorous, miserable, and a bit of a drama queen. Last but not least, Olga the oldest. Not so very old really, but she feels she is: life has worn her down before her time.
They are, of course, Chekhov’s titular Three Sisters, and they and the themes they embody—especially a kind of admirable but passive and mystified endurance of life’s tribulations—are iconic. Even if you don’t know the play itself, likely you’ve seen variant versions of the archetypes in other works.
Few variants are more audacious and playful than the one by RashDash (the official title is Three Sisters, By RashDash, After Chekhov—hereafter simplified as 3SBRAC), a feminist theater collective in Great Britain, which is currently on stage at Curio in an absolutely smashing production, beautifully directed (by Meg Trelease), and marvelously designed (sets by Paul Kuhn, costumes by Aetna Gallagher, lighting by Tim Martin).
It’s fun even if you don’t know the original; if you do, you’ll find it especially delightful.
The idea here is simple but profound. Chekhov’s play is distilled to its essence—Irina, Masha, and Olga (superbly acted by Tessa Kuhn, Rachel Gluck, and Colleen Hughes, respectively) are the only characters.
The three are then placed in an series of situations (the details aren’t always clear, but there’s certainly an evolution) which tests their mettle in different ways. What would Olga be like if she were a contemporary political watcher? (Spoiler alert: she thinks Nancy Pelosi looks older than she expected.) What if Masha were a party girl? Or Irina tried her hand at songwriting? (Another spoiler alert: the show sometimes imagines all three through the guise of disaffected, Lilith Fair-ish singers.)
It’s a delicious construct, and the Curio folks deliver 3SBRACon a very high level. A few more details, though it’s an advantage to let the show take you by surprise. There is a fair amount of profanity. Frequent on-stage costume changes punctuate the shifting sense of selves, and include everything from tutus to onesie bear costumes. (Also lots of black underwear, which somehow here feels not at all objectifying, but instead quite bold and empowering.)
The beautiful thing about it all is that Chekhov always stays front and center, in a frame that also emphasizes bold theatricality. A few moments are drawn directly from The Three Sisters; others, not specifically Chekhov, are nonetheless Chekhovian in the more general sense of mood. Several are entirely new—Masha wondering if feminism has ultimately failed her, for example. But all of them feel organic to the characters.
Speaking of organic, one of the truly impressive things about 3SBRACat Curio is how much this company has made the piece their own. I believe the original is a devised work, something developed by the collective, er… collectively. That often is difficult to translate to another company; here it feels like a natural fit.
And that’s all you’ll get from me—apart from a hearty recommendation to see the 3SBRACfor yourselves.
But wait—there’s more! Should you want to broaden your horizons and understanding of Chekhov, you have not one but three opportunities. In what local wags have dubbed the Nine Sisters confluence, in addition to Curio’s 3SBRAC, Hedgerow Theatre has just opened a production of the original play; and EgoPo has another intriguing variant take, Three Sisters Two, in a wonderful production. Why not take in all three? I promise you will be (in the original playwright’s famous admonition), laughing through tears.
Three Sisters By RashDah After Chekhov plays through February 23. For more information, visit the Curio Theatre Company website.