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Drama Club: Tuesdays with Chekhov: Three Sisters

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Play: Three Sisters
Year Published: 1900
Point in Chekhov’s Career: Third of his four major plays

Olga, Masha and Irina Prozorov all live on their family estate with their brother Andrey.  The play begins on Irina’s 20th birthday party, a day of joy and revelry.  Yet in just a few years, the siblings start to burn out thanks to dreary work, unhappy marriages and extreme nostalgia for Moscow.

Historical Context:
The long-standing love-hate relationship between Russia and Germany is seen in The Three Sisters. As Mikhail Bakunin wrote to his sister in 1865, “I say, as Voltaire said of God, that if there were no Germans we should have to invent them, since nothing so successfully unites the Slavs as a rooted hatred of Germans.” Baron Tuzenbach seems to fear this spiteful attitude in the play, frequently assuring his friends that he’s not actually German.  “But I’m really Russian, honestly I am; I don’t even speak German,” he says in act one.  He later tells Irina that there’s “very little German left” in him and he was baptized in a Russian church.  Despite his rank, Tuzenbach frets that the relatively powerless people around him will shun him for his heritage.

Chekhovian Context:
There were apparently at least five sets of three sisters who were important to Chekhov. The Golden, Markova, Ianova, Shavrova and Lintvariova sisters all played a role in the writer’s life at some point.  It appears, however, that Chekhov may have drawn his inspiration from some sisters he never met: the Brontës.

Chekhov took out a biography on the famous trio in 1895 from the Taganrog Public Library, and the similarities between his Prozorov sisters and the Brontës are striking.  Both were motherless and raised by a stern father.  Their brothers disappointed them with their gambling problems and involvement with disagreeable women.  They both lived in the harsh countryside, though they longed for their respective capital cities of promise.  Sadly for the Prozorov girls, though, they never achieved the success of their real-life counterparts.

Casting Call:
There’s no clear star of this play, so you have to focus on all three sisters.  Anne Hathaway could be a good fit for Olga.  She got rave reviews for her theater work in Twelfth Night last summer, and she fits the age.  Abbie Cornish would be a perfect choice for conflicted, moody Masha.  After recently playing Fanny Brawne – who experienced a tragic romance with famous poet John Keats – in Bright Star, playing an unhappily married woman with her eyes on another man should be easy.

Last but certainly not least, Carey Mulligan could easily take on Irina.  She’s played vivacious ingénues who grow world-weary in An Education and – wouldn’t you know it – a production of The Seagull, so it wouldn’t be much of a stretch.

Kristin Hunt is an undergraduate journalism major at Syracuse University.  She dreams of the day she owns a personal library the size of Belle’s from ‘Beauty and the Beast.’  Her column, ‘Drama Club,’ appears every Tuesday.

Photo of Hathaway: Anthony Citrano
Photo of Cornish: Zap2It
Photo of Mulligan: ShowBizGossips


Written by whitney teal

April 13, 2010 at 10:20 am

Posted in Drama Club

Tagged with ,

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