Classics by definition are timeless and relevant to any situation, anywhere in the world. Anton Chekhov’s (1860-1904) ‘Three Sisters’ is one such play which can be adapted to many situations in today’s world though the play was written during the closing decades of the 19th century in Czar’s Russia. In today’s India, we hear echo of the ‘Three Sisters’. Mumbai audience could easily relate to the production mounted by the Jeff Goldberg Studio, Khar, Mumbai.
Anton Chekhov, a medical practioner by profession, was part of the Great Russian writers like Tolstoy, Turgenev and Dostoevsky. These stalwarts could see the shape of things to come which eventually came in 1917 under Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution.
Chekhov was good at handling short stories as well as plays. His plays like ‘The Seagull’, ‘Uncle Vanya’, and ‘The Cherry Orchard’ are regarded as modern classics and performed all over the world. ‘The Three Sisters’ was written in 1900 and performed in 1901 at Moscow Art Theatre.
The Jeff Goldberg Studio is a five-year old Mumbai-based theatre group that is a fully integrated Method Acting School. The group also regularly holds acting workshops. The play under review is the production of one such batch but directed by a senior theatre person Ashok Pandey, himself an accomplished actor.
Ashok not only has directed the play but has also adapted it to Indian conditions and located it in somewhat modern days. This is somewhat easy to do as the Three Sisters is about the decline of old system and emergence of a new one. The play is engaging, engrossing and leaves the audience in a deep meditative mood.
The Prozorovs family has shifted out of Moscow to this small town some eleven years ago. Now the father is dead and there are three sisters and one brother. Olga, 32, the eldest, is a spinster and has a boring job of a school teacher. Masha, the middle one, is 23. She was married at 18 and that too, to a school teacher. Masha does not love her husband and spends half the time in her maternal home with her sisters and one brother, Kabeer. Irina, the youngest, is 20 and unmarried. She too has an equally boring and tiring job in a local post office. They all yearn to go back to Moscow, the city life and what it normally offers. Kabeer is not married when the play opens but during the course he gets married to Natasha, a town girl, not at all as refined as the three sisters who always boast of their tests and polished way of life. Three sisters, especially Masha does not leave a chance to taunt Natasha for her low-brow tests. In addition to these characters, the play has some army officers who come and go as per the need of the plot. The play is essentially about the life of three sisters through which Chekhov shows the decline of feudalism and emergence of new class of unrefined people who will soon capture power and drive out these relics of old times.
Natasha represents this new class. After her marriage with Kabeer, she becomes part of the Prozorovs family. Once she becomes pregnant and delivers a baby boy, she realises that now her time has come and starts bossing around with these three sisters. The sisters just cannot adjust to this new force that has invaded their refined life and is not going to go away at all. Their dream of migrating back to Moscow does not become a reality and they realise that they are condemned to stay here, under the baton of Natasha, the new lady of the house.
The theme of Three Sisters has been handled before with varying success. I remember Satyajit Ray’s ‘Jalsaghar’, a black and white film made in 1958. Here too we find Ray exploring similar theme.
Ashok Pandey had a set of amateur actors, freshly minted, to mount this challenging show. Feroza Singh (Olga), Sharvi Bhujbal (Masha), Sanya Sagar (Irina), Jeniffer Piccinato (Natasha) and Aditya Jain (Kabeer) are the main characters who have delivered a splendid performance.
Plays like Three Sisters force audience to put on their thinking caps and try to understand the changing nature of societies. Which is why authors like Chekhov never get dated.