A Chekhovian Collison: No Sisters

A Helen Hayes- and Barrymore Award-winning director and playwright, as well as a co-founder of Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre, Aaron Posner has long made waves with his willingness to shatter and reassemble classic stories. His adaptations began as an extension of his work as a director, initially encompassing more strictly literary adaptations of literature, a range of work that includes acclaimed adaptations of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen and My Name is Asher Lev, alongside encounters with Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, and Ken Kesey.

In 2013, Posner turned his attention to the tragicomedies of Anton Chekhov. These were less literary adaptation and more head-on collisions of sensibilities. His first re-imagined Chekhov, Stupid Fucking Bird, is his flippant and energetic response to the stories of hope, loss, and art embodied in the famed characters of The Seagull. Praised for its mix of “mock and awe” (The Washington Post), its premiere production at Woolly Mammoth received eight Helen Hayes nominations.  The play was one of the most produced plays in the United States for the 2015-2016 season.  In 2015 Theater J premiered Life Sucks, or the Present Ridiculous, Posner’s response to Uncle Vanya, which showed Chekhov’s characters full of grim and cheeky humor, laying bare their lust, fear, and sense of mortifying embarrassment.

“My goal from the start has not only been to re-imagine, but re-radicalize Chekhov,” Posner says. “He was a brilliant, insightful, revolutionary, paradigm-shifting author, but then… the paradigm shifted. He won. His radical vision of the drama of everyday life—of love, loss, hope, and the hopeless pursuit of happiness—quickly became the new normal. He has now been imitated by nearly everyone writing for theatre, television, or film for more than a century.”

Here at Studio, Posner returns to Chekhov, but with a new challenge at hand. While a production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters plays out in the Mead Theatre, half the cast will also perform Posner’s No Sisters upstairs in the Milton—characters are only available to one play when they are offstage in the other. (And as promised, Chekhov’s eponymous three sisters don’t make an appearance.) No Sisters features the household’s other characters—Did you remember they have a brother? He has a thing or two to say.—exploring the screwed up, endlessly fascinating psyches of Chekhov’s lovelorn, world-weary misfits. “One way I think about the challenge,” says Posner, “is that in Three Sisters, the characters don’t know they’re in a play. In No Sisters, they know they’re in two. But I’m trying to take the most important page from Chekhov’s playbook: To write a wildly funny play about wildly unhappy people.”

Sivan Battat