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NY Theater Reviews

Sabrina LeBeauf, Carmen Gill, Amanda Mason, Warren Phillip Christian and Josh Tyson/Ph: Troy Hourie



A stellar team breathes new life into Chekhov's poignant tale of dreams deferred and destroyed.

True, there's little physical resemblance, but the way the title characters in the Classical Theatre of Harlem's production of Three Sisters swoop to console one another, there's no question that their psyches are in sync.

The production may be bare-bones-Troy Hourie's set consists of a catwalk flanked by two entrances, each a mosaic of Persian carpets-but the entire cast is superb and extraordinarily well attuned under Christopher McElroen's spritely direction. Laurence Senelick's smooth translation is felicitous, as well. If, like me, you've seen so many productions of the Chekhov classic that you could practically recite the dialogue verbatim, you're in for a surprising treat.

Sabrina LeBeauf ( familiar from her Cosby days) is appropriately care-worn as the eldest, Olga, a duty-bound school teacher. She's the stable base to whom two younger siblings turn in times of stress. Fiery Amanda Mason Warren plays Masha, the moody, volatile middle sister, who's subject to romantic woes-married to the blathering pedant Kulygin ( Jonathan Earl Peck), Masha falls head over heels for dashing Colonel Vershinin ( Roger Guenveur Smith), a self -styled philosopher married to a chronic suicide. Irina ( luminous Carmen Gill) starts off relatively trouble-free-celebrating her 20th saint's day- but ultimately, like Olga, she ends up drained by the need to make a living.

The sisters face a meager subsistence-and, of course, stand no chance of regaining the magic of Moscow. Andrey ( Billy Eugene Jones), their brother and former pride and joy- the sisters once envisioned for him an illustrious academic career- has mortgaged their shared home to settle his gambling debts and assuage his crass, mercenary wife, Natasha ( Daphne Gaines), a viper disguised as doting mother. When Masha, fed up by Natasha's self-serving machinations, calls her out as a "small-town slut," it's all you can do not to leap up and cheer. Emotions run that high in this searing enactment.

If I were doling out praiseful adjectives, I'd never stop. Absolutely everyone is perfectly cast and fully contributes to a tight, compelling ensemble. It's telling that, in this production, even the secondary roles are filled by major talents: Carmen de Lavallade as the doddering housemaid Anfisa, Earl Hyman as the hearing-impaired old functionary Ferapont- Reg E. Cathey (The Wire) as avuncular family friend Dr. Chebutykin. If you haven't yet heard of Josh Tyson and Phillip Christian ( they play, respectively, kindly, homely Baron Tuzenbach, who does his utmost to become Irina's intended, and his obnoxious-unto-dangerous sidekick Solyony), don't worry you soon will.