Pomona College Theatre Department Stages Classic Chekhov Play ‘Three Sisters’

Three Sisters play

In a time when it’s easier to watch a movie at home on the couch than to go to a movie theater, why should people make the effort to attend live theater? Emily Cummings ’23, one of the leads in Three Sisters, Pomona College’s upcoming mainstage production, believes that people should watch plays for “the catharsis of being able to relate to a character on stage and see a story told” in a way that can’t be replicated.

Three Sisters, being performed March 2-5 at Seaver Theatre, provides plenty of opportunities to empathize with its characters as it takes audience members into the lives of the Prozorov sisters in a brutally realistic way. Written by Anton Chekhov in 1900, the style of the play is “theatrical realism,” which aims to replicate real life.

“This play has become a stunning reflection of everyday life across time,” says Zalia Maya SC ’24, who plays the eldest sister Olga.

The setting is provincial Russia, and the three titular sisters dream of moving to Moscow. What ensues is “young people experiencing their first major disappointment,” says Talya Klein, visiting assistant professor of theatre and director of the play. “If anyone understands that, it’s this current group of college students who just lived through a global pandemic and whose college experiences were maybe not what they had envisioned.”

Bleak as that may sound, the story speaks to the sisters’ “strength as well as their resourcefulness,” says Klein. “Chekhov was interested in these women and how they live and negotiate a life where they don’t have a lot of control.”

Cummings, a double major in theatre and linguistics, plays Masha, the middle sister who is trapped in an unhappy marriage. “I can relate to her in terms of dwelling on past regrets but also really wanting to change things,” she says.

To prepare for her role, Cummings spent time outside of rehearsals writing journal entries as Masha to better understand the character. Chekhov was a key figure in the movement of literary realism, and “his plays provided the blueprint for what would become the Stanislavski technique of acting, which is the basis for all modern acting training that exists in the last century,” says Klein.

For Cummings, the experience of being a part of this play has been one of highlights of her time in college. “I’ve loved every minute of the process with the cast and the director,” she says. Klein has allowed the actors to follow their natural instincts, Cummings says. “It makes me feel like I get to actually be a human because I get to do just what I would do.” Maya adds, “She allowed me to bring my own reality to Olga and breathe my life into her.”

Klein believes that audience members will enjoy the show precisely because the actors have made the characters their own. “These characters don’t feel like words on a page anymore. They feel like three-dimensional people,” she says. “That’s when it’s a thrill. That’s when it’s exciting to watch.”

Cummings understands that people are busy and that theater takes time, but, she says, “I would really hope that people would take a little bit of time to come and watch it because there’s been so much love and effort and energy that has been put into the show.”

Performances of “Three Sisters” will take place on March 2 at 8 p.m., March 3 at 8 p.m., March 4 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and March 5 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be pre-purchased online or in person at Seaver Theatre.