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Review: 'Three Sisters' at Masonic Lodge of Hollywood Forever Cemetery

February 5, 2009 |  3:00 pm

Jennifer Chang and Ricardo Antonio Chavira in 'Three Sisters.'Nostalgia is a powerful drug -- no one knows this better than Hollywood, the Freemasons and the characters of Anton Chekhov. Now the beautifully restored Masonic Lodge in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery is the setting for a gorgeously mounted “Three Sisters,” the inaugural production of the Chalk Repertory Theatre.

Director Larissa Kokernot and scenic designer Tom Ontiveros use the lodge’s grand hall, with its vaulted ceilings and scarlet walls, to house a world of dreamers clinging to crumbling mythologies. Sometime around 1900, a military battalion led by the dashing, melancholy Vershinin (Ricardo Antonio Chavira of “Desperate Housewives”) arrives in a provincial Russian town and changes the lives of the Prozorov family: aging golden boy Andrei (Feodor Chin), modest Olga (Joy Osmanski), restless Masha (Jennifer Chang) and impetuous Irina (Aileen B. Cho). This patrician clan’s good breeding is both enchanting and exhausting, and “Sisters” depicts both the death of a beautiful way of life and the end of a reign of spoiled brats.

Played by Asian Americans, the Prozorovs are initially set apart from the rest of the ensemble, although the real strength of this production is that all the performers exist in the same play. The connections -- like the unspoken passion between Masha and Vershinin -- feel genuine. But the surprise center of the show turns out to be Adam J. Smith’s Tuzenbach. With Chekhov, you have to bring the truth along with the funny, and Smith’s awkward first lieutenant, hopelessly in love with the blithe Irina, embodies the play’s striking juxtaposition of comedy and longing.

Every aspect of this “Three Sisters” is beautifully considered, from John Reeves’ sound design to Raquel Barreto’s dazzling costumes, a panoply of embroidery, brocade and patterned silks. Susan Coyne’s new adaptation plays as immediate and witty. The only problem with Kokernot’s approach may be that it’s a little too considered. As Kirk Douglas discovers in the “Bad and the Beautiful,” you can’t direct every scene like a climax, and this production often lingers in pauses to savor its own pathos.

As the run continues and the cast finds Chekhov’s sharper edges, let’s hope they take some of the air out. This is too fine a production to get precious.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“Three Sisters,” Masonic Lodge of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb 22. $30. (866) 468-3399. Running time: 3 hours, 10 minutes.

Caption: Jennifer Chang and Ricardo Antonio Chavira in "Three Sisters." Credit:  Karl Gajdusek