’fore-Play offers historical context of ‘Three Sisters’

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

Audience members wanting a historical look at and deeper understanding of Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” have to look no further than tonight’s “’fore-Play: ‘Three Sisters.’”

Artistic Associate Claire Karpen will be leading the conversation.

“We’re trying to figure out the best way to serve the audiences to give them the context for this play,” Karpen said. “We’ll talk about who Chekhov was as a writer, the time in which he lived and what inspired him. We’ll talk about how those things are reflected in (guest director Brian Mertes’) production, and what Brian’s production is doing to get at the heart of what Chekhov wrote about.”

The ’fore-Play is at 7 p.m. tonight at Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church and will last approximately 45 minutes. Guests planning to attend the 8 p.m. performance of the play have time to walk directly to Bratton Theater.

Karpen said that although at first glance the set doesn’t look like that of a typical Chekhov production — set in the Russian countryside, for example — it’s actually very true to the play. She said she hopes that the ’fore-Play will help audiences see how Mertes is honoring what Chekhov wrote.

“The goal is to serve the audience and help them get as much information as they need to really help them appreciate the play,” Karpen said. “The ’fore-Play can really help them walk into this production with an open mind and with excitement for what they are about to see. The more that the audience is able to learn about this incredible writer, the more they will appreciate the play that Brian has created.”

The ’fore-Play will begin with a brief historical background about Chekhov and the time in which the play was written, Karpen said. It will then shift into specifics about this production.

Associate Artistic Director Andrew Borba said the ’fore-Play will provide “a more historical angle on the play for background information.”

“Sometimes it’s viewed as continuing education,” Borba said. “It’s even more in-depth than the Brown Bags will be.”

Managing Director Robert Chelimsky said the program will give guests interesting facts that will inform them and help them gain a better understanding and experience of the production. This inside look at the play is something they can only get at the ’fore-Play.

“We always try to structure the ’fore-Plays so that they are useful and interesting, whether you have seen the show or not,” Chelimsky said. “This is the background. This is the history. What are the things that are interesting about the time, about the setting, about what was going on in the world in which the playwright was writing the play?”

Karpen said in addition to giving a history of Chekhov and “Three Sisters,” she also plans to give audience members an inside look at the rehearsal process the actors went through with Mertes.

She said that while the ’fore-Play will be informational, it also will be relatively informal and conversational, and audience members are encouraged to raise any questions they may have. She said she hopes audience members come to the ’fore-Play regardless of whether they have seen the play yet.

“I encourage people to come because it will help them appreciate this production and Chekhov,” Karpen said. “There’s a reason why people still do Chekhov. He was an extraordinary writer and an extraordinary man, and he lived a relatively short life, and it’s phenomenal what he was able to accomplish in that short life.”