Written by Anton Chekhov
Adapted by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by J. Ed Araiza
Macgowan Little Theater
Acting students Lea Madda, Tara Turnbull and Maia Rychlik are used to taking on different identities. But for their latest acting roles, their own identities are key.
From Nov. 4 through Saturday, the trio of graduate acting students will portray the titular three sisters Olga, Masha and Irina Prozorov in Anton Chekhov’s classic “Three Sisters” at UCLA’s Little Theater in Macgowan Hall. Each of the three lead actors said she used parallels of her own sibling dynamics to help inform the development of the characters for the UCLA Department of Theater.
Madda, a third-year who plays the role of Olga used her experience with her older sister as a model for her character, who is the oldest of the three sisters and the maternal figure of the play.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about how my older sister acts as the matriarchal figure, educating me on my life plans and even talking down to me at times,” Madda said. “To a certain degree that’s what Olga does in the play.”
Rychlik, a third-year who portrays the role of Masha, the incendiary middle sister, said she can relate to her character’s faulty relations with her brother, using the troublesome relationship she has with her actual brother as motivation to develop an authentic connection to her character.
“He moved out of the house when he was 18 and never wanted much to do with me,” Rychlik said. “My brother is 14 years older and took after my parents so we never had similar interests to bring us together. ”
In the play, communication between Masha and her brother Andrey strains as he spirals into gambling addiction and becomes less involved in the lives of the sisters, paralleling the distant sibling dynamic Rychlik shares with her brother, she said.
Turnbull, who plays Irina, the youngest and most idealistic of the family, grew up an only child and said she relied on her older siblings in the play to find her place within the trinity. Reaching out to Olga as a maternal figure in place of the sisters’ late mother and emulating Masha’s angst were tactics Turnbull used to capture the essence of being the baby of the family, the third-year said.
“Throughout the rehearsal process I’ve learned how integral it is to try to relate to each of my sisters in the play,” Turnbull said. “It became about maintaining a connection to them for a sense of my own character’s completion.”
The three lead actresses said they did not find it challenging to cultivate a realistic sisterly relationship since they have studied together in the classrooms and stages of UCLA’s MFA program.
“Just the nature of us having been together for three years now has made it not that far of a stretch to play sisters truthfully,” Rychlik said. “We weren’t strangers.”
Although essential acting elements such as character development and relationship-building have been relatively smooth for the three leads, preparing to perform Chekhov’s classic has not been quite so easy, Madda said. The cast only had a six-week rehearsal period as opposed to the usual 10, including the preparation of song and dance numbers interspersed throughout the weighty drama.
J. Ed Araiza, head of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television MFA acting program and director of the play, said he seized the chance to use Chekhov’s masterwork as a means to push his lead actresses out of their theatrical comfort zones.
During the rehearsal process the three leads continued to learn from the challenge of taking on roles that played against their idiosyncrasies, Araiza said.
Araiza cast Madda as the matriarch of the three and Rychlik as the rebellious middle sibling, but said based on their off-stage personalities, the roles should have been reversed. The unconventional casting choice allowed the actors to relate to their sisters and forced them to go deep inside themselves in order to seek common ground with their own characters, he said.
“As artists I purposely gave them a role that would be challenging for them,” Araiza said. “They’re definitely talented enough to do it.”