Piven Theatre Workshop i sone of our areas treasures when it comes to theater and often the work they pull off in their tiny space in Evanston is pure magic. The current production is a new adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” penned by Sarah Ruhl ( a tremendous and skilled playwright) and is directed by Joyce Piven, a co-founder of this theater who is also quite skilled at her craft as well. Chekhov can be slow and very wordy in his story telling and I had hoped that Ruhl with her love of language would tighten the show up, but I suppose she wanted to keep with Chekhov’s theme and had to keep it in the 2 1/2 hour range.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it is , of course, about three sisters who are living their lives struggling with the struggle between reality and fantasy. It is not just these ladies who are struggling with their love lives, but in fact the entire village is a bit dysfunctional when it comes to this topic. The trials and tribulations that face them; Miss Olga ( a schoolmistress played with true grit by Joanne Underwood), Masha ( an unhappily married woman, reaching for any type of real romance, played with great zest by the lovely Saren Nofs-Snyder) and Irina ( the idealist, deftly handled by Ravi Batista) Through thick and thin, no matter what takes place, they are foremost sisters and friends and so they stick together. Their hope is to leave their village and move to Moscow, where they assume that life will hold greater rewards for them.
Ruhl, in her new adaptation , has done some modernization and Piven has made the staging almost work, but there are limitations when working with a small space that has no real “wings” and faces two sections of audience. Actors leave and enter in areas that are never really explained and the same backdrop appears for both acts, whether in the drawing room, or is it the dining room ( act one) or some type of bedroom set-up for the second act. I for one, was confused as to who slept where. At the end of the play, it appears they are resigned that they will not make it to Moscow, but rather than despair, they agree that they will indeed make their lives work, provided they do stick together.
There are some fine performances in this play. Dave Belden , as Andrei, the brother to these three sisters and Amanda Hartley Urteaga as his wife Natasha, Andy Hager did a wonderful job in the comic role of Tuzenbach who desires Irena and offers to marry her despite her telling him that she cannot love him. Jay Reed, John Fenner Mays, Jacob Murphy, Kathleen Ruhl ( yes, the mother of the writer), Daniel Smith,Marcus Davis, Kevin D’Ambrosio and Brent T. Barnes round out the rather large cast for such a small venue, While there was some confusion in some of the scenes as to where people were going, if you enjoy the Chekov style of melodic writing and or this play in particular, this will be a different look at a classic. If you are not into Chekhov or Russian historical plays, this may not be your cup of tea. Either way, understand that Act One is very slow allowing us to get a better insight into our characters and their relationships. If you make it through the first act, act tow will be divine.
“Three Sisters” will continue at The Piven Theatre located in The Noyes Cultural Center located in North Evanston at 927 Noyes Street ( just East of Ridge Avenue) and there is some parking in the lot and on the street. The performance schedule through November 21st is as follows:
Thursday,Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by calling 847-866-8049 or online at www.piventheatre.org