On the opening night of the University of Houston’s School and Dance Theater production of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” audio issues weighed down an otherwise decent play. A perpetual ambience of static ran through the performance.
The audio issue—which wasn’t resolved until the second half of Act II—especially grated the experience because it spoiled the performers’ hard work and the meditative transitional moments that let you drink in the quietness of a scene. The needed punctuation of Chekhov’s drama and comedy got swept underneath the noise.
But otherwise, under the direction of John Tyson, the play is a candid execution of a Chekhov’s classic.
In the wake of their father’s death, three sisters dream of ascending to some higher plane of life, even if they’re not certain what that means. The eldest, Olga, is haggled by her spinisterhood. Masha (Precious Merenu), dissatisfied with her doting but dim-witted husband (Harry McEnerny V), falls for the more intelligent, but married, Virshinn (Jake Offen). Young Irina (Laura Menzie), who has more of her life ahead of her, dreams of Moscow.
Their brother Andrei (portrayed with pitiful emasculation by Adham Haddara) does not know to search for any relief except to deny the bitter feelings in the household, instigated by his impulsive marriage to Natasha (Meg Rodgers), who starts out as seemingly sympathetic until she grows increasingly controlling. In a tragicomedic transition, Natasha’s and Andrei’s chemistry lasted as long as a passionate fling that just happened to be followed with marital imprisonment.
The stage direction communicated the inevitable passage of time and its waning effects on optimism. The characters turn greyer, the girls’ dresses stiffer and disposition gloomier. Each scene moves in an authentic “time flies when you’re not looking” manner.
The solid cast carries the material of Chekhov philosophizing. There’s Dr. Chebutykin (played with jolly conviction) who lightens the household but has his own demons to fight. Possessive Solyony (acted with swagger by Josh Clark) makes snarkiness a performance art. There’s also the endearing Baron Tusenbach (Jay Mast), who has an eye for Tchaikovsky and Irina.
On a final note, the prop department added this ingenious touch—A tiny piano that emits a jingly-baby tune. By having this interpretive visual, the production suggests that the girls’ are confined to a minuscule life that they seek to outgrow.
If only time was kind to them.