The Three Sisters, which premiered in January, 1901, is the first play Anton Chekhov wrote specifically for the Moscow Art Theatre. The play was directed by cofounder Konstantin Stanislavsky, the great teacher and originator of a technique of acting, and the cast included Olga Knipper, Chekhov’s future wife, in the role of Masha. Although it was not immediately successful with the critics, The Three Sisters has become the most frequently performed of the Chekhov canon.
Ill with tuberculosis and therefore forced to remain in the warm climate of Yalta, Chekhov instilled much of his own frustration and longing for culture and civilization into the sisters’ dream of returning to Moscow. Olga, Masha, and Irina feel overwhelmed and smothered by the banality of their provincial backwater town. They were educated for a society in which people have an appreciation of language and conversation and perfected a graceful style of living, but that society is fast becoming obsolete. Confused and lacking resources, the sisters search for a fulfilling existence, represented by the dream of returning to Moscow. There, they believe, they can be engaged in activities commensurate with their talents, and life will be meaningful.
The Moscow existence is no more than an idealization of the past, however. Vershinin’s entrance in the first act revivifies the time and environment of their Moscow girlhood, but, as a friend of the sisters’...
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