Chekhov's 'Three Sisters' refreshed for modern times
As he looked through a volume of the works of Russian writer Anton Chekhov, Patrick Walsh kept coming back to the author's "Three Sisters." A longtime admirer of the play, Walsh came to realize he needed to direct it.
Now he has attained that dream with his own adaptation of "Three Sisters," opening at the Shoebox Theatre on Jan. 12, and running through Jan. 28. The production is being produced by the Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative and is also part of the Fertile Ground Festival.
Once he decided to direct the play, he found that every version seemed dusty and old.
"Nothing I found was in any sort of vernacular that sounded contemporary. I wanted to create a translation/adaptation that sounded like how people would talk today," Walsh says.
"So I decided to attempt to make a (version) that was as beautiful, vibrant, hilarious, sad and truthful as what Chekhov originally intended, but in words that sounded familiar to an audience of today.
"It took a while until I realized what Chekhov was going for in his original script, and then it took me even longer to figure out how to make those intentions clear in contemporary language," Walsh adds.
Rob Harrison, president of the board of Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative, notes that Walsh has modernized and updated "Three Sisters," so audiences will "see something of themselves in it."
Although the characters in the play want and desire something, they never seem to be able to get the momentum going.
"And yet they still have that dream in their heads. Patrick has restored the optimism" in the play, Harrison says.
In the play, "Three Sisters" opens a year after the patriarch of the Prozerov family has died, leaving four siblings: sisters Olga, Masha and Irina, and their brother Andrei.
In the course of the play, the three women seek to change their social lives as well as their physical location, but find it difficult to move forward, Walsh says. The siblings grew up in Moscow and desperately want to return there, but "things inside them are holding them back. Their interpersonal relationships are holding them back," he adds.
"Three Sisters" is "such an incredibly hard play to work on. It challenges artists in a very specific and profound way," Walsh says.
"It's been amazing to have such a fantastic, unselfish ensemble to build this production with. Every actor involved is so well-suited to their part, and they bring so much life and joy into the rehearsal room.
"Sharing time and space with these people has been the most rewarding experience for me."
Walsh adds: Audiences "are going to see and experience Chekhov as it was intended: vibrant, beautiful, and absolutely vital to the world they live in."
Portland resident Christy Bigelow plays Olga, the oldest of the three sisters.
"She puts everyone else ahead of herself; her own hopes and dreams are secondary. That is why she has never married," she says.
"There is a sadness to her, but also a tremendous amount of hope. At the beginning of the play, she still thinks that she will find someone and have her own life."
The role has been a challenge, she notes, because "there is so much going on. At every moment everyone is going through something at the same time."
What audiences will like best about "Three Sisters" is that all the characters are "so tremendously human and messy emotionally. They haven't figured everything out," Bigelow adds.
"I'm really excited. This is not a play that is done very often, and everyone has put their heart and soul into it."
Sam Levi, a Happy Valley resident, plays Baron Tuzenbach, a German aristocrat who falls in love with Irina, the youngest sister.
What he likes best about his character is that "he's doing his best and he often tries to lighten the mood."
Tuzenbach feels out of place but is trying to make sure no one knows he is feeling that way, Levi adds. Audiences will like the relevancy the play still has, even though it was written over a century ago, Levi notes.
In the midst of the drama, the characters engage in philosophical debates, wondering what life will be like 200 years in the future.
"We are still asking each other this question, and we wonder if things are going to get better or worse," Levi says.
He has never been in a Chekhov play before, noting that it has been on his bucket list.
"The chance to do this is special because Chekhov is one of the all-time greats," he says.
"I made an assumption that the play was all about sad, rich people. But it's a lot more than that, and it is very funny."
Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters," adapted and directed by Patrick Walsh, stages at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12-13, Jan. 17-20, Jan. 24-27 and at 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 14, 21 and 28, at Shoebox Theatre, 2110 S.E. 10th Ave. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for students/seniors. For more: www.nwctc.org.