In many of Anton Chekhov's best-known plays, his characters are wrapped in obsessive neuroses, constructing cocoons of impenetrable ennui. The author pricks this facade intermittently with comedy.
Unfortunately for us, the North Fork Community Theatre's adaptation of the great Russian author's turn-of-the-last-century play is more Chekhov lite than light. We get an abbreviated performance - nothing wrong or unusual in that. His works, now in the public domain, are radically reimagined and rewritten all the time. In her program notes, director Peg Murray, who won a Tony as the original Fraulein Kost - she led the chilling "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" number in "Cabaret" - acknowledges the comedy/tragedy dichotomy of "The Three Sisters."
Yet the cast reflects little Chekhovian ambiguity.
Amie Sponza as Olga, the eldest and a hopeless spinster at 28; Catherine Maloney as Masha, the unhappily married middle sister, and Deborah Marshall as Irina, who celebrates her 20th birthday in the opening scene, come off mostly as sibling whiners. They're living gloomily in a distant Moscow suburb, longing to return to the "greatest city on Earth." They make do with drab surroundings, brightened only by the posting of Russian soldiers who supply male companionship.
Two soldiers propose to Irina. When she jilts the first, he threatens to kill subsequent suitors. Neither is more than a caricature as portrayed here, although Tom LaMothe as the colonel who falls for the married sister - and she for him - shows signs of life, as if he's not merely memorizing lines. David Burt as Andrei, brother to the sister troika, passes for a henpecked husband, while Lisa Dabrowski as his lowbred but highfalutin wife, evolves believably from shrinking wallflower to shameless adulteress.
Murray's use of musical interludes offers a hint of levity that doesn't emerge often with this ensemble - though David Markel as the drunken medic achieves scattered comic moments.
Gilded 19th century antiques lend a sense of place to Murray's set design. If only the czar (or director) had ordered the cast to loosen up and replace some of those empty dramatic calories with comedic substance.
WHAT: Peg Murray's adaptation of "The Three Sisters" by Anton Chekhov
INFO: $15; nfct.com, 631-298-6328
WHEN|WHERE: Friday and Saturday nights at 8, Sunday at 2:30 p.m., through Nov. 21, at North Fork Community Theater, 12700 Old Sound Ave., Mattituck