A prime candidate for Berkeley’s most under-recognized asset may well be the University’s Theater Department. (Actually the academic title is the mouthful “Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies” but, for the nonce, you’ll probably forgive the abbreviation).
Blessed with an abundance of budding professional actors—who work for free—a faculty who have proved their directoral, acting and design chops in very impressive surroundings—as well as control over the campus’s beautiful Zellerbach Playhouse, these people can put on productions that would be totally impossible for most theater companies. Last year’s terrific Marat Sade stands as an example.
As does, of course, Chekhov’s Three Sisters that opens at Zellerbach’s Playhouse this weekend and plays through the next one. That’s the one real problem with the Theater Department’s productions: you have to make up your mind pretty fast if you intend to go. There really isn’t time to wait around for the reviews to come out before the run is over. The academic environment does require that the department’s presentations fit into the academic schedule, and that’s it.
So we get a two week run of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. First presented in 1901 at Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre, it is considered one of his greatest plays and Chekhov himself is considered perhaps the greatest playwright of the 20th century. Directed by the well-known director and actor Christopher Herold, there is every reason to expect a good production.
The actors almost chorus their delight in their experience with him.
The play is famous for its presentation of Russia’s upper class in the years leading up to the revolution of 1917 (Chekhov himself died in 1904). It is a complex study of a family of young adults—and their friends—who live in the provinces of Russia trying desperately to find meaning in lives in a world which does not expect them to work.
Three out of four of the actors who play leading characters, the sisters themselves, and the dashing lieutenant-colonel “Vershinin” (Cole Smith), are committed to establishing professional careers in acting. The one exception is Pamela Davis, who plays “Irina,” the youngest sister. She’s a Political Science major at this point but seems to be spending quite a lot of time in the theater department.
The others appears to have no qualms; they’ve known for years how they want to spend their lives. Smith, who will graduate this year, seems never to have questioned his goal.
Holly Chou, who plays Olga, the oldest sister, first began to act in the third grade. Jennifer Kretchmer, who plays the sexy “Masha,” has parents “in the business” who “very strongly wanted me to go into something else.” It didn’t work.
With a cast of fourteen, a great (and large) set, and the endless numbers of other artisans that produce the evening, it will probably be a good while before there is another production of this drama as elaborate as the one that will play for these two weekends.
UC Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies presents Three Sisters.
8 p.m., March 4 and 5; 7 p.m. March 6; 8 p.m. March 11 and 12; 2 p.m. March 13.
Zellerbach Playhouse on the UC campus.
$14 general admission, $10 UC faculty/staff, $8 students/seniors.
For tickets or more information call 642-9925 or see http://theater.berkeley.edu.