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Final weekend for Two River Theater's bold new adaptation of Chekhov's classic play "Three Sisters"

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Two River Theater
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The new production of "Three Sisters" at Two River Theater in Red Bank

Pulitzer Prize finalist and Two River Theater Playwright-in-Residence Madeleine George (Hurricane Diane, Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England) collaborates with director Sara Holdren (Twelfth Night) to create a new translation of Chekhov’s classic play about big souls trapped in tiny boxes. Stuck in the Russian countryside at the turn of the 20th century, sisters Olga, Masha, and Irina dream of futures in the wake of their father’s death and a changing Russia.

“We want to introduce this play to new audiences and reintroduce it to old ones by putting out a hand and saying, come with us — this isn’t a museum piece. It isn’t even truly a period piece. It’s a playground and a rock concert and a comedy and a tragedy. Welcome aboard,” says director Sara Holdren.

The talented actors who play the three sisters joined WBGO Journal host Doug Doyle to talk about the new production that runs through June 26. Anna Ishida (Olga), Annelise Lawson (Masha) and Nemuna Ceesay (Irina) all say this has been a challenging and inviting role for them.

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Doug Doyle/Zoom
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Anna Ishida (top left), Annelise Lawson (bottom left) and Nemuna Ceesay (bottom right) join WBGO Journal host Doug Doyle

Anna Ishida says this was her first experience working on a Chekhov play.

"I was intimidated but an actress sent me off saying Shakespeare is to language as Chekhov is to human behavior and that was a huge way in for me. The actual crux I think of this particular work is human interaction, which is painful, awkward, beautiful, life saving, life changing. Those things still happen and they also happen to everyday people which is whose these characters are. I mean it still resonates absolutely. Olga is the eldest sister and takes upon herself due to circumstance and personality you know interchangeably to make sure everyone is okay, everyone has their tea, everyone is behaving, the lynchpin of the family to her own potential detriment, trying to make lemonade out of lemons. Her future got taken away from her due to circumstance of parental deaths but she had a very clear purpose as a result, taking care of her remaining family and also externally, societally being place as a head mistress of a school to maintain the running of that particular institution which is contributing to you know teaching people how to act."

Annelise Lawson plays the middle sister Masha who is the only sibling still in mourning a year after their father's death.

"The thing that I love about Masha and was sort of intimidating about the role when I first approached it was that she lets her feelings be known. She has big feelings and on the page very little filter for them. When she's mad, she's mad. When she's happy, she's happy. When she's raucous, she's raucous. Working in this ensemble it's been lovely because Masha as a character perhaps married unwisely when she was 18. We all make bad decisions sometimes when we're teenagers and is finding herself stuck in this marriage, while there may be love there, it is not the the passionate big deep love you want and unfortunately in the play falls in love for the first time in her life. I think at the outset, it's very easy to look at the headline of this passionate love affair is like the main thing about this character and her main struggle, but as we've been working on it together, I've really come to re-understand the character and the whole play being focused on family and how if it all can you keep your family together in the face of all the ups and downs that life puts you through, parental death, siblings being horrible to each other, bad marriages, bad decisions."

Nemuna Ceesay says she has come to love her character "Irina" a lot.

"When I first started this production, I wasn't sure, she's fun, she's cute, she has a good time but like I didn't quite understand her plight. I think it's easy to look at her on the page just like naive, young, and innocent, and this isn't a character I usually get cast in and I was like how was I going to come to this character and bring her life and make her likable. Through bringing her life, I have really fallen in love with her. I feel so connected to her. She's a dreamer. She really tries to hold on to that through the play even as life is sort of choking her to use her own words. The thing that I love about her the most is that she has this very intense strong intuition. Througout the whole play, I've been like this is amazing. She is the youngest sister. She is kind of moved around as a pawn in this play by men, by everybody but she feels so deeply. She knows when something is off and it affects her very deeply. She's very empathic I think."

The other members of the cast includes Amaia Arana (Irina Understudy), Alex Brightwell (Andrey), Olivia Haney (Young Masha), Kelly Letourneau(Natasha), Gabriel Levey (Kulygin), Rami Margron (Vershinin), Quinn McManus (Young Irina), Mary Neufeld (Chebutykin), Nick Ong (Fedotik/Ferapont), Diana Osorio (Young Olga), Niall Powderly(Solyony), Rudy Roushdi (Tuzenbach) and Regan Sims (Rohde/Anfisa).

The creative team includes choreographer Chloe Treat, scenic designer Jean Kim, costume designer Fabian Fidel Aguilar, co-lighting designers Emma Deane and Caitlin Smith Rapoport, co-sound designers Kate Marvin and Caroline Eng, wig designer Carissa Thorlakson, puppet co-designers and fabricators Emma Wiseman and Nick Lehane and intimacy coordinator Cha Ramos. The music arranger isDaniel Schlosberg and the marching band coordinator is Heather Ewer. The production stage manager is Colt Luedtke and Assistant Stage Manager is Mandy Scott.

You can find out more about the play at tworivertheater.org.

You can SEE the entire interview here.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.