Steppenwolf's <i>Three Sisters</i> Is Heavy Handed Drama With Slight Emotional Weight

What is it about Steppenwolf's production of Anton Chekhov's(Here, simply called) that left me mostly cold?
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What is it about Steppenwolf's production of Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters (Here, simply called Three Sisters) that left me mostly cold?

Was it Tracy Letts' vaguely contemporary new adaptation of the 1901 play that required one of its key actors to utter the phrase "F*ck off?" Was it the disjointed ensemble acting that felt as if various cast members were performing in at least three different productions? Or was it simply the over-anticipation of seeing what the power duo Letts and director Anna D. Shapiro could muster, who previously gave us the earth-shattering August: Osage County?

I've no doubt it's a bit of all of the above.

Sure, there is a great deal to admire in this risk-taking production. Lett's adaptation drives home the disappointment, claustrophobia and loss these three sisters (Ora Jones as Olga, Carrie Coon as Masha and Caroline Neff as Irina) endure when the family patriarch dies. Trapped in a small Russian town, they long for the gilded life in Moscow -- a panacea for their perceived misfortune. Todd Rosenthal's beautifully decrepit set literally frames these sisters' provincial prison (a large model house floats behind a framed painting of a birch forest). Representing the youngest, and most hopeful, of the three sisters, Neff simply breaks your heart when she realizes her "stupid" dreams will never come to fruition, and she must learn to settle for the average and expected. And Jess Goldstein's costumes, particularly for Coon, are lovely.

Despite these attributes, the show never fully comes together. It's a clutch of strong ideas and approaches mixed together with a heavy hand. You never feel these characters live and breath the same air. Sure, the sisters opine themselves as outsiders to their provincial lives and each sister represents a state of acceptance of the inevitable. But the tone of the piece isn't solid, and despite a handful of compelling performances, the show suffers from a lack of cohesion, and thus, an emotional core.

"Three Sisters" plays at Steppenwolf's Downstairs Theatre through August 26. More infomation here.

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