Three Sisters, the play
by Anton Chekhov
Translated by Paul Schmidt (Los Angeles Premiere)
A HapaLis Production in association with Theatre of NOTE
and the Gene Bua Acting for Life Theatre
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Los Angeles Times - RECOMMENDED!!!
"Emotional elegy given by 'Sisters'"
by David Nichols

If the key to Anton Chekhov is to value being over acting, "Three Sisters," presented by HapaLis Productions in association with Theatre of NOTE, unlocks the essentials. Director Alina Phelan and her fervent players attack the 1901 classic with apt spontaneity.
"Three Sisters" (here shorn of "The") concerns the wealthy Prozorov siblings and their thwarted dreams of Moscow (and everything else they aspire to). Chekhov's beautifully gradated drama presages the end of imperial Russia in the provincial existence that suffocates weary teacher Olga (Rena Heinrich), uneasily married Masha (Elizabeth Liang) and naively hopeful Irina (Millie Chow).
With Mina Kinukawa's minimalist set letting subtlety and humor take focus, Phelan maintains a warmly elegiac tone, echoed in Robert Oriol's lights, Paula Post's costumes and Dennis Yen's sound. The cast is imposing. As Olga and Irina, the refined Heinrich and risk-taking Chow pursue modulated paths to the piercing awareness that Liang's searing Masha carries from the start.
Chris Payne Gilbert invests Masha's officer with wonderful sensitivity. Trevor H. Olsen is correctly stilted yet vital as her academic husband. Russell Edge and Jonathan Klein make well-contrasted rivals for Irina. Patricia Place and David Ross Paterson are droll servants. Charles Sedgwick Hall's drunken doctor and Jason Sino and Jeremy Lucas as eager soldiers have broad appeal. Phinneas Kiyomura's brother Andrey can further depict the outer ravages of his mismatch with Natasha (an effective Lucy Owen), but his acting chops are formidable.
Paul Schmidt's translation is accessible but largely prosaic, and the lean, Sino-Russian concept is mainly decorative. Nonetheless, this straightforward revival has notable emotional punch.
By Deborah Klugman

Promoted for its Asian and multiracial casting, this invigorating production of Chekhov.s classic, via Paul Schmidt.s accessible translation, hits home by virtue of qualities that transcend any overlaid interpretation or ethnic nuance. Directed by Alina Phelan with a sharp eye for humor and a sensitivity to women.s longings, it builds its considerable strengths around the performances of Millie Chow as a hopeful and open-hearted Irina, and Elizabeth Liang as her intense, impassioned sibling Masha. Designer Mina Kinukawa.s relatively spare but evocative set frames the backdrop for the inevitable shattering of their dreams, which transpires as their lives intertwine with their restrained sister Olga (Rena Heinrich), their conflicted brother Andrey (Phinneas Kiyomura), his manipulative wife, Natasha (a fabulously twisted Lucy Owen), and other denizens of their provincial town. Chekhov.s truths filter through the work of a cohesive ensemble without a trace of stuffiness, while both Chow and Liang build to their crucial catharses with moving clarity.
By Dink O'Neal

...nice work by this exciting ensemble under the guidance of Alina Phelan. Leading the pack is Elizabeth Liang in the volatile role of middle sister Masha. Her disdain for the love of her schoolteacher husband, Kulygin, played with puppylike devotion by Trevor H. Olsen, is palpably intense as she falls into the arms of Chris Payne Gilbert portraying Vershinin, the dashing army commander. Meanwhile, Russell Edge's rendering of Baron Tuzenbach-suitor to the youngest sister, Irina (Millie Chow)-and Jonathan Klein as Solyony, an acerbically dry soldier, are textbook examples of subtle perfection. And for good old-fashioned scene-stealing, no one in this company holds a candle to Lucy Owen, who owns the stage as the family's manipulative sister-in-law, Natasha.
Given the dull, plodding preconception most audience members may have of Chekhov's works, Phelan and company's highlighting of Act One's comic moments is refreshingly brisk. Surely, it must be the party scenes' lighthearted tones that facilitate this wonderful ebb and flow as focus bounces like a champion Ping-Pong match.
by Jose Ruiz

Chekhov's classic play, Three Sisters, has been called the "most important play in Russian literature", others have called it ". . . the best drama of the 20th century . . .", and still others say it's simply great.
This is not the kind of play that nubies can easily handle; with much of the action happening outside the actual play and some of the primary message unspoken by the actors, placed in the wrong hands it can become an exercise in dullness.
The real story here is not the play, which is excellently cast, and meticulously presented, dealing with the sisters, Olga, Masha, and Irina (Rena Heinrich, Elizabeth Liang and Millie Chow), refined and well educated young women in their twenties who were raised in urban Moscow but have been living a drab existence for eleven years in a small provincial village where the most exciting thing is their conversation with the military officers garrisoned nearby. Their brother Andrey (Phinneas Kiyomura) sees his hopes of success vanish within a marriage to his domineering wife, and a gambling addiction. There is a duel, an affair, an unexpected fire and the exasperating realization that the plans of a crystalline youth have shattered and are now dull broken reflections of lost hopes.
That's a very brief nutshell of the play, but the real story is HapaLis Productions and first time producer Elizabeth Liang. Never one to go the easy route, Liang not only chose Chekhov as an opening salvo; she stretched the envelope by assembling a cast of Hapa actors to play a Russian family.
For those unfamiliar with the term Hapa, the theatre's program defines it as an "adj. 1. Slang - of mixed racial heritage with partial roots in Asian and /or Pacific Islander ancestry . . ."
So here we are, watching Chekhov performed by a multi-ethnic cast, and you begin to wonder if maybe the Asian mix in the three women could have an influence in their performances.
Then you wonder what it would be if the play had been all Asian actors in an Asian setting instead of a Russian setting. Finally, you realize that intermission is here, and you have been so engrossed by the play and the performers that you forgot to wonder how an all Black cast would do the play, or an all White cast, and before long it becomes crystal clear that you have been sucked in by the wily Chekhov as he sets up the characters for an inevitable disappointment, and who cares what ethnic mix is what - you just want to get to the second act to find out how these wonderful actors will resolve this thing!
The layers of the play are as multiple as the ethnic mix on-stage, with Chekhov's characters wondering what it would be like to work (most were aristocrats), or what life would be like in the future. There is much speculation about the future, hinting broadly to the upcoming revolution of the turn of the century. One of the soldiers even hypothesizes that men will be flying in machines, for which he is severely ridiculed. This in a play that preceded the Wright Brothers' 1903 flight by two years!
Elizabeth Liang as Masha and Chris Payne Gilbert as Vershinin are gripping as the lovers who dare not even cross glances for fear it will get back to their spouses; her husband is a boorish stuffy teacher - his wife is a hypochondriac suicide prone neurotic - yet their parting scene is a marvel of restrained desperation and loss.
Playing Irina, the youngest, Millie Chow brings all the wide-eyed wanderlust of a twenty-year old that soon learns that life is cruel and uncharitable. Russell Edge as Baron Tuzenbach, her love interest is a model of a gentleman - resigned to friendship but hopeful for a love that is cut short by his unexpected death. The serious sister Olga, is played by Rena Heinrich with a deliberate stern attitude and a sense of resigned acceptance for her fate.
Charls Sedgwick Hall is great as the crusty, crotchety, cynical old man who has renounced his medical profession and is burned out from having seen too much, hoping to quell his disdain with liquor. Equally good is Jonathan Klein as Captain Solyony, a military malcontent who loves Irina and makes a tragic prophesy about any man who is his rival.
In an absorbing performance, Patricia Place brings a truly sympathetic feeling to Anfisa, a servant who has been loyal and devoted for years, and is in danger of being thrown out by Natasha, Andrey's wife who develops from a timid, shoddy young woman to a domineering and cruel shrew. Lucy Owen is absolutely great in her metamorphosis, slowly intimidating and shredding those who do not see things her way.
Other cast members include David Ross Paterson, Trevor H. Olsen, Jason Sino and Jeremy Lucas.
Director Alina Phelan moves the cast with deliberate precision. Every step - every move is careful and deliberate, yet smooth and natural. The set design and costumes are period appropriate and add a sense of empty hopes to the story, which keeps you engrossed in every scene. You almost need to see this play twice, so rich is its subtle muted message. With acerbity and wit, Chekhov slashes at the pomposity of the times and the blandness of the future. With almost tender concern for the text, HapaLis Productions serves a theatrical feast with little frills but filled with substance.
THE TOLUCAN TIMES and Canyon Crier
'Three Sisters' Benefits from Finely Tuned Direction
By Carol Kaufman Segal

"Three Sisters" is a character play about dreams, hopes and relationships that takes place over a period of several years in a small province of Russia where Irina, Olga, Masha and their brother, Andrey, live after having grown up in Moscow.
All performers are excellent under the finely tuned direction of Alina Phelan. Costumes by Paula Post, assisted by Melissa Chang, are very authentic.