THREE SISTERS by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Susan Coyne, directed by Jackie Maxwell, with Kelli Fox, Tara Rosling, Caroline Cave, Ben Carlson, Fiona Byrne and Kevin Bundy. Presented by the Shaw Festival at the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs in rep to August 2. $47-$77. 1-800-511-7429. Rating: NN Rating: NN
the most successful productions of Anton Chekhov are those that don't treat the playwright's words with total reverence. Too bad there's a sense of that kind of worship in director Jackie Maxwell 's Shaw Festival production of Three Sisters . There's plenty of emotional depth and comedy in the writing, but what Maxwell offers is a stately, distanced piece that's neither involving nor funny.
Ironically, she has a good adaptation by Susan Coyne and some fine actors, notably the title figures. Here each of the sisters - the optimistic Olga ( Kelli Fox ), the bored, black-garbed Masha ( Tara Rosling ) and the young Irina ( Caroline Cave , creating a darker-toned character than usual), who looks to her work for solace - voices her mantra about moving to Moscow, but each is forced to develop her character in a world of her own. Maxwell hasn't knit their performances together into strong relationships, and as a result the show is spotty and lacklustre.
Kevin Bundy 's Vershinin, the married Muscovite army officer with whom the also-married Masha becomes involved, has some early clever moments as he projects both seductiveness and naíveté, but he later settles down into a conventional figure. Fiona Byrne also falls into a stereotype as the shrewish wife of Andrei (Ben Carlson), the sisters' unassuming brother.
Only in the play's last act do the characters connect, but it's too late for any resonant dramatic tension. The impending tragedies that come to fruition in the production's last half-hour - tragedies impossibly sad and achingly funny - lack the weight they must have. This Three Sisters squanders the work of both Chekhov and its cast.