Laughing through tears, scoffing through smiles—there are so many perplexing shades of sensibility in the world of a Chekhov play. In the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s current production of Three Sisters, director Christopher McElroen slathers them all (artfully) onto the canvas.
The production is full of excellent performances, which you can watch in minute detail thanks to the intimacy of the wide, shallow stage nestled between two banks of seating. The familiar dynamic, for instance, among the three sisters (played by Sabrina LeBeauf, Amanda Mason Warren, and Carmen Gill) is finicky and finely tuned. One performance, though, threatens to derail the whole project. As Vershinin, Roger Guenveur Smith seems to have landed from a different planet, or at least a different play. Sing-songy and glassy-eyed, this Vershinin—usually a pivotal figure in the play’s romantic plot and moral debate—seems, instead, like an absurd bit-part.
McElroen and his cast succeed, nonetheless, in making the central questions of the play—about happiness and suffering, gratification and deferral—seem fresh and important. And when, in the late moments of this production, the young father, Andrey, takes to pushing his wheelchair-bound gofer, Ferapont, so that Ferapont can, in turn, push a baby carriage, it feels like they have evoked something ineffable about the relationship of one generation to the next, of past reality to future possibility.