By MR Anderson
At the West Park Presbyterian Church, there’s a light in the attic. Far above the pews and pulpit hangs a balcony. Originally the home of the Riverside Shakespeare Company (circa, 1982), the stage was born out of parts salvaged the same year from the demolition of the legendary Helen Hayes Theatre on 210 West 46th street. Fast-forward to present day, and the intimate 99-seat theatre flanked by an overlooking Tiffany stained glass window still holds the space with a sort of theatrical golden-age magic.
This balcony serves as our provincial Russian town, the setting for The Russian Arts Theater & Studio’s Three Sisters.
From the multiple entrances, trap doors, and balconies; the characters enter wiping their feet, crossing their hearts, and primping their hair familiarly. The walls of the stage encroach into the audience’s space with ornamental hangings, portraits, and other homely items that tie in the world and are treated so honestly by the cast that the space unquestionably feels like a home.
The time-honored piece is well respected under Aleksey Burago’s direction, while maintaining an exciting newness. Character interactions and intentions are classically Stanislavski; while dance, music, and artful movement innovate in revelatory ways. Nearly each scene is underscored with some form of song or group physicality that doesn’t only texture the text, but drives these familiar scenes with new intention.
The titular sisters make up the bulk of the action, and justly so. Olga (Toni Goldman) is sweet but powerful as the matriarchal eldest. Even in her silence, her 10-yard stare carries great presence, and her stoicism towards love is tragically effective.
Masha (Di Zhu) is a sheer delight as the middle sister. Music drives her performance, in more ways than one; her love affair with Alexander Ignatyevich Vershinin (played by a bright-eyed and passionate Roman Freud) is nearly powered by music. Their flirtations advance from shared song verses, to sharing a seat at the piano, to Masha holds a guitar’s frets while Vershinin ‘strums’.
Irina (Reanna Armellino)’s character evolves fantastically over the course of the four acts. Her childlike coquettishness in the beginning of the play contrasts greatly with a sobered, almost solemn Irina who carries her newly gained wisdom with heady weight.
The brother Andrey Sergeyevich (David A. Russell) makes a drastic change as well, and his initial sparked and charmed courtship with Natalya Ivanova “Natasha” (played by an effective and lethal Ekaterina Golovina) turns him from a spry young man into a hollow version of his former self.
Three Sisters is part of the New York Chekhov Festival, and a welcomed addition to this year’s lineup. Take part in this adventurous foray into traditional drama before the church doors close.
Three Sisters performs March 24th-April 15th at The Balcony Theater at West Park Presbyterian Church.