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An intimate revival of Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’ in Chelsea

Journal Correspondent

From left: Arthur Waldstein, Paul S. Benford-Bruce / Photo by Danielle Fauteux Jacques

JANUARY 11, 2018 – Arthur Waldstein never passes up an opportunity to act Chekhov. In fact, about 15 years ago, the Boston-born and bred actor joined premier Annette Miller in a revival of “The Seagull” staged both at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and the International Chekhov Festival in St. Petersburg and Yalta.

As the veteran actor (and retired lawyer) recently told the Journal, the premier Hub actress even put together an English-Hebrew-Russian haggadah that both performers shared with Yalta Jews celebrating their first Seder. In 2014, he played the pivotal secondary character Firs in the Actors’ Shakespeare Project revival of “The Cherry Orchard.” Now Waldstein has taken on another Chekhov character actor’s part – that of porter Ferapont in Apollinaire Theatre’s highly intimate edition of “Three Sisters.’’

Intimate is an understatement at this performance. As with Apollinaire’s inspired earlier revival of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” “Three Sisters” – which Waldstein recognized as “Chekhov’s greatest play” – moves between floors and rooms in the company’s Chelsea Theatre Works venue and performs before a limited audience of about 30 theatergoers per performance. He praised company artistic director Danielle Fauteux Jacques’ own sets. “They’re very well detailed, and you feel like you’re in Russia.” He was equally enthusiastic about the intimacy. “From an actor’s perspective,” he reflected,” the audience is always close, but here the audience is even closer. The smaller the stage, the more you’re aware of the audience.”

The versatile actor – whose roles range from Friar Laurence in “Romeo and Juliet” (Happy Medium Theatre) and Cinderella’s Father in “Into the Woods” and impresario Dmitri Weissman in “Follies” (both with the Lyric Stage Company of Boston) – feels very much a part of the Apollinaire ensemble with the role of Ferapont. “He’s a porter to the district council. He’s also something to the family,” he noted. “I think he’s a type. I think he’s a Russian type – an open, garrulous peasant who doesn’t know his place.”

Addressing Danielle Fauteux Jacques’ guidance, Waldstein submitted, “She is looking for the comic factor. He (Ferapont) provides some overt comedy while Andrey (the brother of the title siblings) has an opportunity to soliloquize.” Waldstein brings rascally fun to Ferapont in the later going as he grabs drink and a snack.

Call Apollinaire Theatre Company’s labor of love revival of “Three Sisters” an opportunity to feel like a part of Chekhov’s stage family. Company head Danielle Fauteux Jacques – a triple threat helming direction, sets and lights – even surpasses her very good work on “Uncle Vanya” with an equally “you-are-there” staging that captures the rich complexity of this 1900 masterwork. A poetic if sometimes raw 2009 adaptation by Tracey Letts – whose strong recent drama “August: Osage County” clearly bears the influence of Chekhov – catches fire in moments of hope as well as despair and scenes of solidarity for the sisters as well as disconnections between couples and friends.

The title siblings are vividly contrasted as they long to return to Moscow. Siobhan Carroll is a revelation as indomitable and remarkably optimistic Irina. Deniz Khateri finds all of Masha’s marital unhappiness, while Becca A. Lewis captures harried teacher Olga’s tenacity in a face-off with domineering sister Natasha, played with properly increasing insensitivity by Olivia Dumaine.

The same goes for Irina’s suitors. Michael John Ciszewski has all of Baron Tusenbach’s charm and vulnerability, while Jon Vellante proves a scene stealer as his alternately chummy and sarcastic rival Solyony. In a uniformly strong ensemble, Brooks Reeves catches teacher Kulygin’s buffoonish demeanor as Masha’s clueless husband, and Evan Turissini is equally persuasive as Natasha’s hen-pecked Andrey. Kudos go to Elizabeth Rocha’s insightful costume design for the sisters and especially for Natasha as she takes domestic control.

Characters fear that they will be forgotten in the future. In an age of polarization, Chekhov’s calls for caring and strong family ties resonate more than ever. Apollinaire’s vital “Three Sisters” is a revival to cherish.

Samuel Beckett probably appreciated Chekhov’s singular understanding of the absurdity in life. Along with IRNE Award-winning actress Liz Adams, Waldstein will be tackling “Happy Days,” one of Beckett’s own masterful explorations, in a revival March 3-11, in the Plaza Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts by new company Omphalos Performance Project.
“Three Sisters,” Apollinaire Theatre Company Chelsea, through January 21. 617-887-2336 or apollinairetheatre.com.

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