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  • 'Three Sisters' gets a contemporary take

  • The world of the Prozonov family and their friends becomes contemporary and real in a new, beautifully accessible adaptation of "Three Sisters" playing in the Center Stage Theatre at Southern Oregon University.
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  • The world of the Prozonov family and their friends becomes contemporary and real in a new, beautifully accessible adaptation of "Three Sisters" playing in the Center Stage Theatre at Southern Oregon University.
    Written by Libby Appel — a former artistic director at Oregon Shakespeare Festival — and directed by OSF's Scott Kaiser, the story remains true to playwright Anton Chekhov's Russian tale of cherished dreams and shattering disillusions.
    As "Three Sisters" opens, we learn that the family — the three sisters and their brother — moved from Moscow to a provincial town when their father, the General, was transferred. He gave his children exceptional educations and, at his death exactly a year before, he left them a comfortable house with small pensions for each of his daughters. But there is not enough money for the girls to live without working or marrying well.
    Their enduring dream is to return to Moscow. Everything will be better in Moscow.
    The eldest daughter, Olga (Hanna Gassaway), 28, views herself as the head of the family. She has not found a husband and grudgingly teaches at the local high school. The middle sister, Masha (Chelsea Mia Acker), married her high-school teacher, Kulygin (Spencer Riley Hamilton), when she was 18 because he appeared learned and wise. Now, only several years later, she finds him boring and foolish. The youngest sister, Irina (Rachel Seeley), is depressed by her pampered life of cultured leisure. She dreams of finding spiritual fulfillment in work — oblivious to the fact that Olga comes home from work with her head throbbing and stomach churning. Their brother, Andrey (Darek Riley), realizing that he will never become a professor in Moscow, sees his salvation in the love of a local, unsophisticated girl, Natasha (Stephanie Neuerburg).
    As each act unfolds, the dreams and aspirations of each of the sisters and their brother are progressively chipped away. Their lives seem to shrink and shrivel, especially as Andrey's wife, Natasha, becomes more strident and demanding. Only their dream of returning to Moscow remains, and that becomes more and more distant.
    Performing Chekhov is difficult even for seasoned actors. What the characters are actually saying is often at odds with what they truly are feeling or what really is going on around them. Kaiser has taken this group of student actors and elicited superb performances from each and every one of them. There isn't a wrong note or a weak portrayal in the large cast.
    It is a joy to watch Acker's Masha as her moods swing from annoyance with her husband, to elation in her affair and despair when it ends. Likewise, Gassaway treads a fine, emotional line with Olga, never making her pathetic or bitter. Seeley deftly portrays an Irina maturing from a protected, pampered, young girl into a woman facing the harsh realities of survival.
    There is a nice counterpoint in Neuerburg's increasingly petulant and demanding Natasha and Riley's fearful and retreating Andrey.
    Scenic designer Ryan Callahan's staging is impeccable, opening with an expansive dining room lined with haphazard rows of transparent, empty picture frames. As snapshots are taken of the family by one of the characters, the frames illuminate, as though capturing the moment in memory. Callahan's set design becomes more intimate and desolate in subsequent acts, echoing the action on stage. The excellent period costumes are by Sarah Martin, innovative lighting design is by Danielle Leigh Hicks and the subtle sound design by Jeffrey Hayes.
    "Three Sisters" shows at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 15-17, with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 17-18. Tickets cost $21, $18 for seniors and $6 for students. Call 541-552-6348 or see www.sou.edu/performingarts.
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