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Chekhov comes to the Creighton stage for first time with 'Three Sisters'

Creighton actresses in the upcoming Fine and Performing Arts production of Russia, that grand foil to most things American and Western — with its spies who loved us, its contrarian economic and political dalliances, and now, its alleged election intrigue — was once a land of the romantic aristocracy and peasantry, almost unrecognizable to 21st century eyes.

That Russia, the one of the late 19th and early 20th century, was the chief province of Anton Chekhov, who wrote four major dramatic works, masterpieces of the Russian mood and times which speak now and universally to the common themes of yearning, loss, dashed dreams, nostalgia and the complications of the human heart in conflict.

Nov. 1 through 5, Creighton University’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts will bring to the Lied Education Center for the Arts Mainstage Three Sisters, the University’s first undertaking of a Chekhov play and a production coinciding with a local revival of interest in the playwright’s work which has been recently retranslated in vibrant, modernized language.

“We are very excited about it and it’s a challenge, for sure,” said Alan Klem, a professor of theater who will direct Three Sisters. “But we’ve found students and faculty actors who have taken to the roles, some really great, memorable roles, and we think we’ve got a show that’ll generate some interest.”

Working from a 1981 translation from renowned Irish playwright the late Brian Friel — referred to in some quarters as an “Irish Chekhov” — Klem said the language more closely follows the depth and bite of Chekhov’s original Russian.

The story, set at the turn of the 20th century, recounts a five-year period in the lives of the Prozorov sisters: Olga, Masha and Irina (played by Creighton students Kelly Jones, Allexys Johnson and Alyssa Clausen, respectively), as they live out a stultifying existence in a provincial Russian town. Each sister longs to make some more profound connection through love or work, all while harboring dreams of someday returning to the lights and liveliness of Moscow, their hometown, from which they departed 11 years prior to the play’s action when their military officer father, now dead, was transferred.

Adding to the sisters’ woes are the stunts of their sensitive artist-cum-compulsive gambler brother, Andrey (Creighton student Ben Adams), and his wife, Natasha (Creighton student Marissa Galardi), a shrinking, rustic violet who gradually metamorphoses into a bullying, unfaithful spouse and a cruel mother and employer.

“Chekhov labeled it a comedy,” Klem said. “And there are some happy, comedic moments. But more than anything, I think it’s a story that’s true to life and life’s little associations and moments and ironies. Those little moments are what feed the bigger picture. Chekhov was brilliant at teasing those out.”

Befriended by other military officers stationed at this remote outpost, the sisters maintain a kind of marital bearing themselves, braving family strife, financial ruin, star-crossed love, a massive fire and an unexpected death with aplomb.

Other Creighton students in the cast are Peter Nicholson as Col. Vershinin, Ben Gliedt as Capt. Solyony, Sam Buck as Lt. Fedotik, Jake Russett as Lt. Roddey, Esther Aruguete as Anfisa, Emmanuel Oñate as Ferapont, and Jojo Layton and Talia Fittante as maids. Joining the Creighton students on stage are University alumni and faculty, including journalism, media and computing professor Brian Kokensparger, PhD, as Dr. Chebutykin, and alumnus Ted Lane, BA’93, JD’06, as Fyodor Kulygin. Dennis Stessman, a noted Omaha actor, takes the role of Baron Tusenbach.

Klem said the staging of the play is another dare Creighton is taking, jutting an extension of the stage out into the audience and raising sets at about mid-stage, rather than in the back.

“We want people to feel a part of this,” he said. “We want people to be intimate with the action because what’s happening onstage are intimate moments.”

Creighton’s production of Three Sisters falls in the middle of a Chekhovian revival in the Omaha area. In October, the Omaha Community Playhouse will stage contemporary playwright Aaron Posner’s Stupid F’ing Bird, a reimagining of Chekhov’s The Seagull, and just as Three Sisters completes its run, Omaha’s Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre Company opens Uncle Vanya.

“Chekhov still speaks to us in these universal themes of shattered dreams and vague hopes and how we spend our time on earth,” Klem said.

Showtime for Three Sisters from Nov. 1 through 4 is 7:30 p.m. A matinee on Nov. 5 starts at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 general admission, $12 for seniors and $5 for Creighton students, staff and faculty. Visit the Creighton box office here or call 402-280-1448. A faculty and staff ticket special, admitting two guests for the price of one, will be in effect for this production.


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