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Solid acting of leads can't save bad production of 'Three Sisters'

The College of St. Scholastica sent a platoon of wooden soldiers against a solitary Russian playwright on Friday evening, and they were overwhelmed. Passable -- at times, solid -- performances by the actresses in the lead roles were not enough to...

The College of St. Scholastica sent a platoon of wooden soldiers against a solitary Russian playwright on Friday evening, and they were overwhelmed.

Passable -- at times, solid -- performances by the actresses in the lead roles were not enough to save Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters."

Director Dave Orman's production was so badly flawed we never even hadthe chance to deal with Chekhov himself, with the subtlety, symbolism and quasi-absurdist touches of his script.

"Three Sisters" is the story of the Prozorov sisters, stuck in a remote, provincial garrison town in the last days of the czar's reign. Their soldier father having died, they pine for the glamour of Moscow, their birthplace, and plan to move back there. Generally, it's considered a play about hope, but the predominant hope at CSS on Friday was for a swift and merciful end. It was hope unfulfilled.

None of the nine males in the cast, whether playing soldier, civilian or servant, showed more than an occasional flicker of understanding of their characters. When lines weren't delivered in monotone, they wererendered unintelligible by bizarre inflection.

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With so little drama on which to focus, one could not help but note that the show's costuming and makeup were so poorly done, they were almost an insult to Kevin Seime's luscious set -- far and away the most polished aspect of the show.

Perhaps Orman, long associated with Renegade Comedy Theatre, where production values are as alien as family values at a hip-hop concert, simply didn't notice thepuddles of fabric on shoe tops, the military tunics either hanging to mid-thigh or straining at their buttons. But someone should have recognized that the play parades an army colonel across the stage sporting bright red corporal's chevrons.

This was the same officer who arrived direct from fighting a fire ready for inspection: not a hair out of place, not a smudge on his face, only some very tentative soot on his shirt as evidence of his ordeal.

Civilians were oddly garbed, too. A white dress shirt worn outside the pants will not pass -- certainly in the intimate confines of the CSS Little Theater -- for the straight-hemmed peasant blouse favored by Russian men of the period.

While the males were the victims of most of thesartorial savagery, the women were not completely spared. Although the play spans a period of months, one actress wore the same dress throughout. It was a spectacular and beautiful gown, well suited to both actress and character, but its persistence was at least as distracting as the yards of fabric heaped around the men's ankles.

What credible acting the show offered was done by Kate Horvath as Masha, Shannon Smith as Olga, Rosy Dey as Irina -- the sisters -- and Amber Goodspeed as Natasha, their hateful sister-in-law.

Horvath, a veteran of UMD's theater program,displayed the advantages of having been through a large, well-financed program. Masha's chafing at her geographic and social isolation and her bitter disillusionment with a husband taken at an early and naive age were as convincing as her giddiness at finding a lover.

As skillful as the individual portrayals were, though, they were never woven into any sense of sorority, and the sisters' tableau at the curtain -- the staging, not the acting -- was as wooden as thesoldiers.

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Paul Brissett is a Duluth writer and amateur actor who has appeared in community theater productions and has served on the board of the Duluth Playhouse.

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