Theater Review: Chekhov lightens up in NFCT production

Committed to sharing her passion for Anton Chekhov’s work with North Fork audiences, Peg Murray has courageously pulled out the stops in her adaptation of the brilliant Russian playwright’s “The Three Sisters.” Both the adaptation and its production at the North Fork Community Theatre have been guided by one principal aim: to make the 110-year-old play accessible to a contemporary audience.
To that end, the adaptation condenses the play’s four acts into two. Songs have been added. Pivotal moments in the characters’ relationships are sometimes depicted through musical interludes and/or a seductive dance step or two. Farcical elements have been emphasized and emotional weight downplayed. The adaptation even incorporates some Ogden Nash lyrics. The result is a briskly paced romp through a Chekhov drama that definitely will not lose you along the way.
Produced by the imaginative and hardworking Deanna Andes, the physical production has much to recommend it. Ms. Murray has opted for a unit set of elegant simplicity, successfully finessing the need for the play’s separate bedroom and garden sets. The costumes, although not always entirely authentic, have been assembled with fine attention to character by Hannah Gray, and all has been effectively lit by NFCT stalwart Charlie Sheer. The music was arranged by Virginia Jones, whose skills at the piano — from the opening phrases of Tchaikovsky’s “Chanson Triste” — lend a much welcome, gentle grace to the production.
The cast at NFCT consists primarily of local actors also associated with Northeast Stage, the Greenport troupe Ms. Murray founded over 25 years ago. The rapid pace of this production requires the actors to turn on a dime. Thus, love must blossom instantly, frustration must materialize from thin air and the groundwork for emotional outbursts is rarely laid. This interesting approach veers from naturalism toward a heightened, sometimes even quirky theatricality, and each of the actors is game.
Bold, broad-stroke character choices have been made. For example, Chekhov’s unhappily married yet dutiful and optimistic Colonel Vershinin (the capable Tom LaMothe) here is slick and swaggering, and the disillusioned and similarly ill-married Masha (Catherine Maloney) — whom Chekhov described in his letters as “thoughtfully withdrawn” — is here vivacious and broadly histrionic.
As the sisters, Ms. Maloney, Deborah Marshall (Irina) and Amie Sponza (Olga) all attack their roles with great energy and enthusiasm. Lisa Dabrowski as Natasha, the villager who weds their brother, Andrei, and then overtakes the family household, admirably avoids the trap of two-dimensional villainy. The roles of the sisters’ nanny, Anfisa, the doctor Ivan and Baron Tusenbach are ably played, respectively, by Suzette Reiss, David Markel and Jim Navarre, each of whom will no doubt discover additional layers to their characters as the show’s run progresses.
At an early performance, the speed with which the production moved prevented us at times from being moved ourselves. But at least three notable exceptions come readily to mind, moments in which we fully experience Chekhov’s power as a playwright. First, the awkward declaration of love by Irina’s suitor, Captain Solyony, a moment tenderly played by Alan Stewart. Second, brother Andrei’s frustration with the way his life has turned out, as simply expressed by David Burt, whose manner and skill as an actor bring us most completely into the world of Chekhov’s play. Finally, the moment, beautifully played by Joe Martinsen, in which Masha’s husband, Feodor, at long last acknowledges his wife’s infidelity and forgives her.
What a boon for the actors in this cast to be able to explore the coveted roles of Chekhov’s masterpiece under the tutelage of Ms. Murray, the award-winning actress who, for over 25 years, has been a revered luminary of the North Fork theater scene. Perhaps NFCT or Northeast Stage can cajole her into mounting another of Chekhov’s masterpieces soon … maybe even unabridged. Appetite now whetted, the North Fork will surely be ready for it.

The Three Sisters
North Fork Community Theatre
12700 Old Sound Avenue, Mattituck
Performances continue Nov. 12, 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21. For tickets, visit or call 631-298-NFCT (6328).