- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 5, 2002

Anton Chekov is no doubt rolling in the grave at the notion of a singing-and-dancing version of his play "Three Sisters."

But heck, a little exercise is good for you, even in the afterlife.

Playwright and composer Thomas W. Jones takes vast liberties with Chekhov's masterwork, using it as an inspiration rather than doing a strict adaptation. Thank goodness, because the whole idea of Masha bursting into song as if she's Ado Annie from "Oklahoma" is difficult to wrap your mind around.

"Three Sistahs" sets to rollicking, gospel-inflected "smooth jazz" the plot of three sisters returning home after a funeral and having to decide what to do with their father's house. All that has been lifted from Chekhov are the names (Americanized here) of the sisters and their brother Andre and the facts that the eldest sister Olive (Bernardine Mitchell) is a teacher and the middle sister, Marsha (Crystal Fox) is unhappily married.

The youngest, the idealistic and passionate Irene (Desire DuBose), is more adrift than ever as she mourns the death of her twin, Andre, who was killed in Vietnam. The year is 1969, and the place is Washington, D.C.

The sisters seem to get together only for funerals these days, and they use the occasion to have a pajama party, staying up all night in the home where they grew up, drinking wine, eating popcorn and telling secrets. It is a night for all sorts of revelations and conflicts, which are perfunctorily resolved by morning so the sisters can indulge in a little more sublime three-part harmony before exiting the house and locking the door.

"Three Sistahs" more closely resembles a soap opera than a tragicomedy as the confessions come fast and furious and are dealt with in brisk sound bites before the women move on to the next blowup. Mr. Jones, who also directs his play, does not seem to know what to do with his cast when they aren't singing or dancing, so they do all sorts of senseless fluffing of pillows and moving of blankets that is so pointless it becomes maddening.

Still, you can forgive all of the absurd sob-sister machinations and stage busy-ness when the cast starts to sing. Led by Miss Mitchell with her commanding and majestic vocals, the cast swoops and swirls from one showstopper to the next.

"In My Father's House" shows off the trio's harmonizing talents to perfection, as does "What Will I Say in the Morning" and "There's a Leak in This Old Building." Miss Mitchell gets to induce shivers in the audience with her powerhouse "A Storm Is Passing Over" and show off her comedic talents in "Barely Breathing," in which she describes a romantic encounter that literally flips her wig.

Miss Fox, who electrified audiences last season in Round House Theatre's "Home," is equally potent here as the jaded, wine-swilling Marsha, lending intensity to the songs "I Wanna Be Somebody's Baby" and "Sometimes You Just Need a Change." Miss DuBose lends youthful intensity and itchy eagerness to her big moments, "Summer of Ashes and Smoke" and "Temple of My Dream."

There are worse excuses for an evening of song and entertainment than a trio of enormously talented women getting into their PJs and getting down. As long as you are not looking for Chekhovian irony, "Three Sistahs" will delight and move you.


***

WHAT: "Three Sistahs" by Thomas W. Jones II

WHEN: Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m., through Oct. 27.

WHERE: MetroStage, 1202 N. Royal St., Alexandria

TICKETS: $30 to $35

PHONE: 703/548-9044

MAXIMUM STAR RATING: FOUR STARS

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