Arts & Culture / Mosaic / Theater / November 5, 2009

Chekhov crosses eras

Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters was written over 100 years ago, but its ability to retain relevancy to modern life was one of the reasons behind associate professor and chair of theatre Neil Blackadder’s decision to direct it in the first place.

“It interests me that one man in any one era can write plays that strike a chord in so many people over 100 years later,” said Blackadder.

The play, set in a provincial Russian town around the turn of the 20th century, tells the story of three sisters and a brother who used to live in Moscow and dream of someday being able to return.

“One of the big questions of the play is whether they can’t return or won’t out of some psychological resistance,” said Blackadder. “Moscow takes on this symbolic representation for them, as part of what people need to be fulfilled.”

The challenge in communicating this was one of the reasons Blackadder first became interested in directing the play. Chekhov’s writing requires the actors to know the text of the play extremely well and have a thorough understanding of their characters. Although the story has plot, it is the character’s everyday lives that are being explored and need to be brought to life.

“Bringing it to life — you do that with any play,” said Blackadder. “But […] it’s not a ‘whodunit’ […] it’s more just watching people’s lives develop in front of you and seeing what’s going on beneath the surface. A lot of stuff isn’t voiced directly.”

To help accomplish this, Blackadder chose to use costumes that were as historically accurate as possible. What the characters are “wearing and what they’re sitting on is appropriate to the period,” he said.

Many of the men wear Russian military garb (an army brigade is stationed in the town) and the women all wear corsets. The scenery, while also correct for the described era, is slightly more abstract. The play’s four acts required three different locations, both indoors and outdoors. To bring this about, Blackadder, in conjunction with set designer Craig Choma, chose to remove walls and doors from the set.

Blackadder was also enthused about the opportunities the production offered to the students.

“I’ve enjoyed the fact that I’ve cast two first-year students,” he said. “I think it’s the first time in Harbach for quite a few of these students.”

Blackadder also has two student assistant directors, seniors Samantha Newport and Devan Cameron. Rather than just watching and making comments, often the role of assistant directors, the two ran their own rehearsals, helping the actors with small scenes and monologues, in addition to those conducted by Blackadder. Since the play has several layers of action, with multiple events going on in a room at a time instead of just one or two characters talking, “they have brought a lot to the process,” said Blackadder.

That process culminates this week in Harbach, where the show opened last night and will run through Saturday. Blackadder intends it will communicate the deeper elements of Chekov’s work.

“There’s a danger when people talk about Chekov that they think it’s depressing […] it’s honest about life, how hard it can be, but also honest that it can be uplifting, inspiring. That balance between the bleak and the hopeful is important,” said Blackadder.

Directed by Neil Blackadder

Assistant Directors: Devan Cameron and Samantha


Cast List

Isaac Miller

Abby Harms

Kate Donoghue

Carla Hamilton

Nellie Ognacevic

Shane Donegan

Nate Hults

Ben Lee

Steve Selwa

Jonathan Plotnick

Kristen Chmielewski

Cindy Reiter

Katie Haynes

If you go

November 4, 5, 6, 7

7:30-10 p.m.

Harbach Theater

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and free to the Knox community

Katy Sutcliffe

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