Anton Chekhov’s play “Three Sisters” is not just the story of three sisters.
“I don’t know why it’s called 'Three Sisters,'” Director Dale McFadden said. “But it’s really three sisters and a brother.”
IU Theatre will premiere “Three Sisters” on Oct. 13 at the Wells-Metz Theatre.
The play follows a group of family members struggling to achieve their individual life goals while dealing with hardships and failures that challenge their dignity and perseverance.
“This is a play about endurance and belief in oneself, regardless of circumstances,” McFadden said. “How does one continue when one’s life goals have not turned out the way they expected?”
The first scene opens with Irina's 20th birthday party, which happens to land on the same day that the sisters’ father died a year ago. This scene, and other moments throughout the play, juxtapose stark tragedy with light-hearted humor.
“There’s so much duality in it,” Tess Cunningham, the actress playing Irina, said. “In the midst of this whirlwind of so much emotion, there are just these really lighthearted moments of people laughing.”
Considered a master of short fiction, Chekhov wrote “Three Sisters” in 1900. More than a hundred years later, his plays are still produced across the country, McFadden said.
“I’ve had professors tell us that professional companies, every once in a while, throw a Chekhov in their season to keep their actors sharp,” Cunningham said. “You have to think about the thought after your lines — what is the thing that you’re not saying.”
Between the drama and tension, the moments of lightheartedness draw on the times when family members support each other. At one point, a character puts on a costume beard to cheer up his wife, and the family members tease each other in good-spirited ways throughout the play.
“They’re so easy to care about,” Cunningham said. “They were real people with real feelings and relationships, and we want to make sure we give those people a chance to exist in real space.”
This is a studio production of the work, meaning the play has the basic sound, lighting and set designs with only the necessary elements.
“These days, the approach to Chekhov is much leaner and direct, and that’s what we’re doing,” McFadden said. “There's a trend, too, with these modern classics, to get them down to the essence of the acting, the design and the overall story.”
The play features a cast of 19 students, and begins with most of them on stage before moving on to smaller, two- to three-character scenes. Balancing those large details with smaller, intimate details is a challenge, McFadden said.
“The first act has about 15 people on stage for the entire act," McFadden said. "He’s conducting an orchestra of behaviors. You have to play Chekhov like a piece of music has to be played.”
Making the characters relatable and impactful to the audience is a main goal, Cunningham said.
“I wanted those moments to be based on the rawest form of it that I could let happen,” Cunningham said. “It is people living their lives unapologetically right in your face.”
“Three Sisters” runs Oct. 13 to Oct. 21. Tickets start at $10 for students.
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