Three Sisters at Academic Hall

Wow, I really should have written this last night.  Now I’ve got, like two hours to rattle this off, have dinner, shower, change, and beat feet for ANOTHER play.  Sigh.  I may have to skip dinner.  I hope the Gladstone has nibbles tonite…

But if I wanna make this dopey schedule, I should probably focus on LAST night, when I headed over to the ever-lovely Academic Hall for the premiere of their latest production, and a special one at that.  The show was Anton Chekhov’s THREE SISTERS, directed by the maestro Peter Froelich, and it’s a show with an interesting local history…originally, this was to be the first show in Third Wall‘s new season, a co-production with the Ottawa U Drama Guild.  When 3rd Wall had a bit of a hiccup with their cash flow, tho, they had to cancel their season (they’ll be back!), and the Drama Guild decided to go on with the show.  But not alone…much of the cast from Third Wall’s resident company stuck along for the ride.  And If I’m getting some of the specifics of how this actually went down wrong, please forgive me, I just have a vivid imagination sometimes.

Anyhow, I clearly wasn’t the only one interested in the show’s pedigree, because the joint was packed to the gills!  I was lucky to nab me a frontrow seat, not to mention a ticket.  A lovely, staggered set from gentleman John Doucet waited for the players to climb on, and after a few minutes of people-watching in the cheap seats (Snowdon, Ruprecht, Langston…paparazzi don’t usually crowd the student productions like THIS…kinda cool), the lights dimmed and we were on our wondrous way.

Chekhov’s classic (and the inspiration for recent NAC killer show AND SLOWLY BEAUTY…) tells the story, obviously of three sisters in a pedestrian Russian town whose sole point of interest is a military battalion stationed there.  We meet them on the anniversary of their father’s death, a Colonel who moved them there much earlier from their beloved Moscow, where they long to return to.  Over the course of a few years, we see their ups and downs, and a few more downs, and then whoa BOY some downs, and…

…okay, THREE SISTERS is not a traditionally uplifting play, at least not on paper.  But in between all that suffering (unhappy marriages, loneliness, death, fire, and other hilarities are par for the course for our heroines) is some amazing text, and on the Academic Hall stage some amazing performances awaited.  Anchored by some heavy acting power from the likes of John Koensgen (as romantic, world-weary Vershinin), Paul Rainville (as the fading Doctor Chebutykin, always looking for a reason not to get drunk), Tibor Egervari (the eternally cheerful and terminally ignored older husband of the middle sisterMasha) and Tom Charlebois (stealing scenes adeptly as half-deaf bureaucrat Ferapont), the vets are joined by some solid young gangsters from the Ottawa U crowd.  Ivan Frisken does nicely as Baron Tusenbac, a well-intentioned soldier intent on winning one of the sisters’ hand in marriage…Garret Brink, as his friend and rival Solyony, exudes a very nice air of menace throughout.  Steve Bowa and James Graziano round out the battalion as a pair of charming soldiers, along for the occasianlly bumpy ride.  And Zach Raynor gives a great turn as doting and brilliant young Andrei, whose transformation in the play is positively crushing.

But as solid as the boys are, I’ve GOT to give this one to the ladies.  Lauren Cauchy’s unassuming Natasha is a revelation, flowering into one of the best on-stage villains I’ve seen all year.  Janet Uren of Linden House Theatre is wonderful as elderly housemaid Anfia, doing very much with very little.  And then there are the Three Sisters themselves, and just WOW.  Right off the bat, you’ve got Kristina Watt as eldest sis Olga, stoic and heartbroken but somehow finding the strength to face each new pain.  And happily, her co-stars not only manage the feat of matching the amazing Ms Watt, they sometimes  come dangerously close to stealing the show.  Jennifer Capogreco radiates presence as moody upstart Maria  (or Masha), wrestling with her doomed feelings for dashing Vershinin with a wonderful lack of restraint.  And Sophia Lyford-Wilson just amazes as Irina, the cheery ‘baby’ of the group who grows up all too soon…when she sits, weary and defeated after a soul-crushing day of thankless work, you seriously FEEL it.  I felt like giving the poor thing a pillow at one point.  It was just perfectly goddamned great.

This is taking me a while (no wonder I like one-person shows…MUCH easier to credit everyone with a job well done!), and close to having to skip my shower too, so I’ll wrap it up…THREE SISTERS is more than worth the trip and your time.  I’m bloody thankful I got introduced to some of the names and faces I saw last night, not to mention the familiar ones I saw who continue to impress (Rainville was particularly delightful, I gotta say, and the lighting by Lockhart was primo as usual).

And the icing on the cake..?  Jenny David on drums.  What more can you ask for, really?  Peace, love and soul,

The Visitor (and Winston)

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