“Life won’t change. It’ll still be happy and hard and mysterious”, says a character early on in the play in response to a philosophical discussion after a few drinks. A telling line that speaks in a universal voice, and one that is likely to grasp the attention of the audience in this adaptation of Anton Chekov’s famous work Three Sisters.
What relevance can a play written nearly 120 years ago in Russia have in present day Kathmandu? Possibly it is the theme of universal humanity, and this is what director Rose Schwietz underscores in her adaptation of Three Sisters .
The play revolves around the lives of a family lost in the past, reminiscing glorious yesteryears. Set in a small town in Russia, sisters Olga, Masha, Irina, and their brother Andrei are in a nostalgic limbo. They endure the drudgery of life, hoping to some day return back to Moscow where they grew up. They miss its vitality and charm.
The play’s timeline spans a couple of years, giving us enough time to examine significant changes in each of the characters. What starts as a joyous celebration of life and memories quickly changes with the choices the characters make.
Andrei’s decision to get married affects the dynamics with his sisters. Olga sees herself slowly succumbing to a life she isn’t too fond of, Masha feels trapped in a loveless marriage and makes a life-altering choice, while Irina who works in the local telegraph office looks forward to a life of exuberant bliss.
As all of this unfolds, tragedy awaits. But it is not the tragedy that is the most telling detail of this version of Three Sisters. Over the last century, each director has made creative choices that have shaped the narrative. In Kathmandu, Schwietz makes what initially seems like a minor change in the plot but which shapes a dynamic outcome in the play — especially regarding a secret that Masha holds on to before disclosing it to her sisters towards the end.
The cast gives a riveting performance that is complimented by the compact setting of the theatre. This Russian family saga becomes both a personal experience and a collective challenge which the audience is made to confront head-on. The characters move from euphoria to dismissiveness to finally accepting their fate and the tragedy that has befallen them. It is a roller coaster of emotions.
Despite its grim ending, the passion that is played out on stage is reason enough to keep coming back for this captivating depiction of 19th century Russia in Kathmandu’s alleyways.
One World Theatre Production
5.15pm, 9-19 March, Kunja Theatre, Thapagaun (except Mondays)