The first thing you need to know about this production is that Chekhov’s three young sisters are not played by three young actresses, they have grown old, as did the rest of the characters, and it becomes ever more clearer and dire that at their age, and our day and age, happiness is not waiting in a future that will never be known, tomorrow might be the last and a long life is not a guarantee for a life worth living. And yet, the question where does happiness truly lie is remained unanswered. The audience quickly realizes that it is not only there for an evening of lighthearted entertainment, of laughter and witticisms, but it is there to experience an emotional vertigo by a poignant performance that condenses a lifetime of disappointments and hope into an evening.
In this co-production of two of Israel’s greatest theatres, Habima Theatre and The Cameri Theatre, performs a cast of Israel’s finest actresses and actors. Leah Koenig as the eldest sister, Olga, whose performance is full of life, passionately dancing with the soldiers at the beginning of the play and affectionately taking the mother’s role, consoling her sister on a heap of ragged mattresses after the fire. The role of Masha, the brooding young sister, who in this production is turned into the middle sister, is played by Gila Almagor, and her romance with Colonel Vershinin, the commander of the battery, played by Eli Gorenstein, is touching and sincere, with Gila Almagor’s uncontrollable laughter as she falls in love with him, which could not be more transformative in this otherwise cold and distant portrayal of Masha, and with Eli Gorenstein’s edgy façade, at times concealing, at times revealing Vershinin’s lurking anxieties and pessimism.
As the plot progresses and the joyful beginning seems like a faraway dream, the bright warm lighting gradually dims and intricate shadows are spread out across the stage, the family’s mansion is stripped off its furniture and the stage is left almost bare, only the supporting pillars are there for the characters to hide behind, but they offer neither support nor consolation. As their piano is being taken away, the last of their possessions, Evgenia Dodina in the role of Irena, plays a final tune that transforms her frustration and anger towards a world she will never know into mournful longings towards a world she once believed in. Evgenia Dodina’s performance is heart-rending and unexpected, as with deep sadness she acts out the joy of life and with joy, the sadness, spinning around to the music like the dreidel that keeps on coming back every few scenes, reminding us that nothing has really changed, that, as Chebutykin, the army doctor, says: “one baron more or less in the world, what does it matter?” Ezra Dagan, playing Chebutykin, masterfully shifts between the comic and the pitiful, that you can never be certain whether a smile or a tear is waiting behind the corner. Although Igaal Sade and Oded Leopold, as Baron Tusenbach and Soleny respectively, both give a powerful performance each one for himself, yet the tension between them, which is a key part of the play, does not cut all the way through and it becomes merely a part of the background.
Rami Baruch, in the role of Andrey, the under achieving brother, who was destined for a glorious academic career in Moscow, skillfully turns the character from a ridiculous love-struck boy at the beginning to an angry lonely old fool at the end. His wife, Natasha, is played by Maya Maoz, whose daunting presence seems at times a bit exaggerated, and yet it could not be ignored that she is giving us all she’s got, that what at first seems like innocent comedy quickly becomes a sick obsession.
So what else do you need to know about this production? Oh so many things, but what they are, you better find out for yourselves.