Sarah Ruhl’s translation of Three Sisters to premiere at UI Theatre Department

The UI Department of Theatre will present Anton Chekhov’s play, Three Sisters, tonight at 8 p.m., and will feature a new translation by Sarah Ruhl.


Hayden Froehlich for The Daily I

From left to right, Liaf Graf performs as Masha, Amy Rodriguez performs as Irina and Crystal Stewart performs as Olga during the Three Sisters dress rehearsal in the Theater Building on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. The characters are the three Prozorov sisters who each face separate challenges in pre-revolution Russia.

Pedro Barragan, Arts Reporter

Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters will premiere on the theatre’s main stage today, and run through March 14. Based on a new translation by Sarah Ruhl, this version of Three Sisters intends to create a more upbeat nature to the celebrated tale of melancholy, according to director Lila Becker.

As a play that has been performed since 1901, Three Sisters has received numerous translations, but this production will hail a new translation by Sarah Ruhl. The play derives around three sisters—Olga, Masha, and Irina—who wish to return to Moscow from the countryside, all while civil unrest stirs in Russia and their sister-in-law ignites domestic problems in the family. Becker said she was excited about bringing Ruhl’s translation to the UI stage, believing it to be impeccable in comparison to other versions.

“I think it’s a really great translation,” Becker said. “Sarah Ruhl has a wonderful introduction where she talks about the way that the Russian language is structured compared to English and how a lot of the typical translations of some of the more famous lines in Three Sisters are put in a more wistful language that is more different. It’s more direct and more active.”

Crystal Stewart found her role of Olga, the eldest of the three sisters, to be a revelatory experience in her resume of performances at UI, having performed mostly in abstract shows in the past.

Hayden Froehlich 
Liat Graf performs as Masha during the Three Sisters dress rehearsal in the Theater Building on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. “Using the birch trees from Chekov’s original was very important to me,” said Scenic Designer Bethany Kasperek. “There are thirty trees in total.”

“This is the first play in the UI where I don’t play a ghost,” said Stewart. “But it’s the first realism play I’ve done. This is one of the first plays I’ve been in where it’s real human beings having regular conversation in traditional storytelling.”

Becker was also drawn to the Chekhov play due to its focus on women. She said that although written at a different time, the play still tells a powerful story of power dynamics between men and women.

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“The relationships in the play still feel to me incredibly contemporary,” Becker said. “The power dynamics that are at play, in terms of what women have access to versus what men have access to, there are ways in which that has changed and many ways in how that hasn’t changed.”

Amy Rodriguez, who plays the youngest of the three sisters, Irina, has studied Chekov’s play plenty of times in class, but said that Ruhl’s translation stands out.

“Since coming to the UI, this is my third time studying Three Sisters, and Lila was my teacher,” Rodriguez said. “I think that her translation is very direct and it’s more interested in how the sisters are feeling in their interactions.”

Liat Graf, who portrays middle sibling Masha, found the play to be an amazing experience for its dedication to creating a singular voice for each of the sisters, humanizing them rather than displaying them as archetypes.

“What I love about this play and the sisters is that they’re all very complex and complete human beings,” said Graf. “They all deal with the adversities of their lives in very different ways.”

Although Chekhov is recognized for writing plays that lack high spirits, Three Sisters was labeled as a comedy by the esteemed playwright. Becker believes the audience will get some laughs from the production.

“This play is funny, you’re going to laugh,” Becker said. “And I don’t think you’ll leave feeling an overwhelming sense of gloom.”