It’s been a long time since I watched a performance at the famed Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. Everything appeared larger than I remembered. Amy, a friend from my reading group, secured a few last tickets for the last show of Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov.
Despite sitting in the back on the balcony, we had a good view of the stage and could hear every single sentence uttered by the actors. I had a vague notion of what the play was about, but didn’t expect it to be so dark—the story of the three sisters’ unfulfilled longing for life, and for that matter, nearly everyone else’s doomed future in life, cast a heavy feeling among the audience.
The three sisters were the daughters of a late military garrison’s general. They were born in Moscow. Unhappy with their life in a small town, they were nostalgic about their past and longed to go back to Moscow. In the end, each had to learn to live with their disappointment and accepting the fact that they might never be able to the city and life they dreamed of. Further more, except Natasha, the “married up” wife of the sisters’ brother Andrew, who was manipulative and gradually took over the control of the household, there was not another person in the play who was happy. However, the audience, at least among the few of us, didn’t leave the theatre feeling depressed. I guess partially it’s because of the complexity of life being presented in the two-act play and partially the question about the meaning of life that left each member of the audience pondering, or at least, wondering.
As if adding to the heavy feeling, we walked out of the theater to a pouring rain. Amy made a reservation at a nearby Italian restaurant, and we battled the rain to walk there. The effort paid off—the food was good and the discussion on the play enlightening. I knew we would gather together more often to enjoy the theatre scene in Chicago.
Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.