There’s an emotional heavy-handedness to director Michael Patrick Thornton’s revival of “Three Sisters” for The Gift Theatre, but I don’t think it’s intentional as much as it is inevitable. To begin with, there is a noticeable imbalance in the triangular equilibrium among his lading ladies. Although everyone in this play, with the possible exception of willful Natasha, suffers from inertia, there still needs to be some kind of journey despite the fact that most audiences by now know these three sisters will never reach Moscow. Of the three, only the beautiful Hillary Clemens as young Irina registers the full emotional arc of her character’s spiritual and physical desiccation. Masha, typically played as the ravishing love-sick seductress, has here been cast against type with the cherubic-faced and little-girl-lost Calliope Porter executing the brooding bit in black convincingly from the start but failing to develop it into much else. And as the wistful yet sound Olga, inarguably the most difficult of the three sisters to pin down, Jenny Connell is all gloom and doom right from her opening line—a line that sets the tone for the rest of the evening—and has nowhere to go fast. Set designer Dan Conley’s backdrop to the proceedings—a sinister and oppressive black wall—is a constant physical reminder of the melancholy that underscores the mirth. And Thornton’s inventive yet tedious minimalist staging—meticulously choreographed entrances and exits; the miming of props and furniture; a sophisticated sound and effects design emphasizing the passing of time—suggests a clinical and intellectual examination of the proceedings instead of a spontaneous and humorous celebration of them. The end result is a “Three Sisters” that emphasizes a suffocating fatalism over gradual resignation, and a curious revival that fascinates yet rarely moves. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At the Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee, (773)283-7071. Thu-Sun 8pm/Sun 3pm. $15-$25. Through September 30.