North Shore actors in Steppenwolf’s new adaptation of Chekhov
Derek Gaspar and Caroline Neff rehearse for Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Anton Chekhov’s" Three Sisters," adapted by Tracy Letts. | Photo by Joel Moorman
Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago
July 8-Aug. 26; previews begin June 28
(312) 335-1650 or visit steppenwolf.org
Updated: June 26, 2012 9:32PM
Anton Chekhov’s classic play may be called “Three Sisters” but the story of those siblings, who dream of moving back to Moscow, can’t be told without including the men in their lives.
Scott Jaeck, who grew up in Evanston and Wilmette, plays Chebutykin in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Tracy Letts’ adaptation of the work. “He’s one of Chekhov’s doctors. He has doctors in most of his plays and a great many of his stories because Chekhov himself was a doctor,” said Jaeck.
The actor noted that Chekhov’s doctors are all observers who comment on events. “They’re sort of the audience’s way into the play,” Jaeck said. “This will be my third Chekhov doctor so I’m very excited.”
Chebutykin is older than the other doctors Jaeck has played and is dealing with some age-related problems, including memory loss “and feeling worthless,” Jaeck said. “Like quite a few of the doctors he has had a great love in his life who he was never able to be with. So there is a great deal of ruing his past and his missed chances.”
In Chebutykin’s case that great love was for the mother of the three sisters. It was a hopeless infatuation because she was married.
Wilmette resident Derek Gaspar plays Baron Tusenbach. The Baron is “a single-minded, noble, upper class man,” Gaspar said. “He grew up very privileged but he believes in work. He’s starting to come into his own and doesn’t want to be a privileged person anymore.”
The Baron is madly in love with Irina, the youngest of the three sisters. “She is everything positive in his life,” Gaspar said. “She is beautiful and charming and shares his idealism and belief in work.”
The Baron’s friend Solyony is also enamored of Irina — which makes the two men rivals despite their friendship. Their relationship “is one of competition,” Gaspar said, but there is also “banter, intellectual debate and humor. They fill each other’s need for entertainment.” Their rivalry for the youngest sister eventually destroys the relationship, though.
Deerfield resident Bruce Moore is an ensemble member who keeps the show moving — literally. “I’m a peasant. I bring on furniture, take off furniture,” he said. “And in act four I’m a wandering minstrel. I sing a duet with another ensemble member.”
Despite the fact that he’s in a minor role, Moore said it’s “very thrilling” to be in a show at Steppenwolf. He said he was “pleasantly surprised” to discover that everyone involved in the show “is very kind and gracious. I think sometimes I watch too much ‘American Idol’ and expect people in professional organizations to be cutting and competitive. Being with these folks has been wonderful.”
Although the play was written in 1900 in Russian, all three actors believe it has relevance for contemporary American audiences. They all credit Letts’ adaptation for adding to the relevance. Moore noted that Letts told the cast, “If you want Chekhov, the only way you’re going to get Chekhov is to see it in Russian.” That’s because there are many inside jokes that only Russians would understand.
Gaspar noted that Letts removed all of those foreign references. He believes modern audiences will connect with this adaptation because, “It has a lot to do with time and the idea of what we do with our time.”
He added that the play also addresses the eternal issue of suffering. “We’ll always have suffering,” Gaspar said. “I have daughters and they always ask me, ‘Why don’t some kids have food?’ ”
Also, like the characters in the play, “There’s a great many people in our world who don’t grab their lives by the horns,” Jaeck said. “Their lives end up being guided by other things.”
“Many people just get stuck in their lives and they can’t make a decision,” Moore concluded. “I think this whole play reflects that. Anybody watching it will think of their lives and say, ‘What in my life am I holding onto and how can I move beyond it and do something more with my life?’ ”