The Class Menagerie: At Source, Chekhov?s social upheaval feels a bit caged.

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The poster art for Constellation Theatre’s Three Sisters—a trio of delicate, feathery seeds poised en pointe, awaiting the faintest breeze to sweep them off to a fertile landscape—so precisely captures the title characters’ predicament in Chekhov’s tale of ripeness unfulfilled that you can’t help hoping just this once against hope. Not in expectation that the frustrated Prozorov sisters might somehow fare better than they invariably do—they won’t get to their beloved Moscow, no matter how many translators (Lanford Wilson in this case) tackle their tale. No, the dream worth dreaming as you settle into your seat at Source Theatre is that a D.C. troupe will have nailed the lightness of tone that allows this sonata-like dramedy to mingle grace notes of laughter amongst tears. If an audience can be coaxed into seeing motherly Olga, moody Masha, flibbertigibbet Irina, and their lovesick brother Andrei as comic figures early on—prisoners not of the circumstances they rail against but of their own willfulness—then their later anguish at the stasis in their lives can register as the sadness of bourgeois clowns. Alas, notwithstanding an apt poster, capable design work, and a few graceful performances—chief among them Nanna Ingvarsson’s wistfully understated eldest sister—Allison Arkwell Stockman’s in-the-round staging doesn’t get near this promised land. Oh, there’s comedy on occasion—Ashley Ivey’s milquetoast schoolteacher nattering on cluelessly as his listeners’ eyes glaze over, Amy Quiggins and Billy Finn mooning over the glories of work when they’d never lift a finger to help their servants, Brian Hemmingsen’s slyly disruptive doctor tossing a Groucho-esqe “how’d you like that little tidbit,” over his shoulder after blurting out a family secret. But more often, the playing is merely on-the-nose, reflective of dialogue but uninflected with the natural disorder of life. Chekhov wrote about a way of living that was unraveling amid social upheaval, but there’s so little sense of class distinction in Constellation’s production that Katy Carkuff’s Natasha, a marital interloper forever being disparaged by the Prozorov sisters for her coarseness, actually seems a better fit for this family than does the stiffly unreadable middle sister that Catherine Deadman seems determined to fashion almost entirely from blank stares. And without a sense of social disparity, of a class coming unmoored even as it’s frozen in space, the play neither moves along, nor moves us. Great poster, though.