"I can't go on, I'll go on," wrote Samuel Beckett in a line that would come to crystallize much of his work. Beckett's epigrammatic oxymoron describes the experience of many of Anton Chekhov's characters, some 75 years before that. Long before Vladimir and Estragon waited and waited for Godot, Olga, Masha and Irina waited and dreamed and planned and never actually got to Moscow.
Chekhovian inertia and ultimately inescapable ennui, is in full bloom in Berkeley Rep's The Three Sisters. This is the West coast premiere of Sarah Ruhl's new version of the 1901 play. In the Berkeley-to-Broadway In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), Ruhl showed us that the desperation in the constricted lives of Victorian women could be comedic gold. But her take on Chekhov is much more sober.
Chekhov himself described Three Sisters as a "comedy" and indeed the self-pitying iterations and reiterations and resolutions (followed by stasis) is an absurd state of affairs. Chekhov went on to deem this play "vaudeville" and while I have never seen it performed that way, it has been demonstrated that Chekhov was a pioneer of black comedy. But what is one person's tragi-comedy is director Les Waters's idea of strum und drang.
Emily Kitchens, Wendy Rich Stetson and Heather Wood
In Waters's capable production of Ruhl's straight-forward script, we pity these daughters of the evaporating aristocracy. They see themselves as in exile, helpless to do anything but long for their past. In this production, we take them for their word when they tell us that they are trapped by their circumstances. If they have said the same thing 20 times by ACT II, if they imagine escape but never pursue it, woe is them. But their treadmill angst could also be perceived as pathetic and comic.