Home Arts ‘Three Sisters, Four Women’ and No Men Take the Stage at Lost...

‘Three Sisters, Four Women’ and No Men Take the Stage at Lost Nation Theater

“Three Sisters, Four Women” rehearse on the set at City Hall Auditorium. From left: Laura Michele Erle (playing oldest sister, Olga), Swetha Vissapragada (sister-in-law Natasha), Samantha Haviland (middle sister Masha), and Coyah Mosher (rebellious youngest sister Irina). Erle and Haviland are the playwrights. Mosher, a 2023 Montpelier High School graduate, is in a BFA acting program at New York University-Tisch. Photo by Wayne Fawbush.
Sometimes opportunity doesn’t come knocking, so you have to make it happen.

“We were young actresses in New York City who were really disappointed with the sort of roles that we were seeing, that were on the audition calls … and the female characters that didn’t have any depth, that didn’t have any power or strength,” said playwright Laura Michele Erle in an interview at Lost Nation Theater.

Erle and fellow actress Samantha Haviland decided to change that by writing their own play.

“Women are so strong, women are so powerful, and so we gave that to our characters,” Erle said. “We gave them agency to change the story, and we changed our own by becoming playwrights and writing the roles we wanted to see.”

The result was “Three Sisters, Four Women,” a witty, fast-paced play that SoHo Shakespeare premiered at the Flea Theater in New York last fall and that opens for its regional premiere May 30 at Lost Nation Theater.

Inspired by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” and set in the Russian countryside about 1900, the play is a thoroughly modern American production that deals with contemporary characters and issues.

“We take the story of ‘Three Sisters’ and turn it on its head by focusing on the three sisters, which ironically, the original play is really not all that much about,” said director Kathleen Keenan. She noted that while more than half the characters in Chekhov’s play are men, this play has none — just four women.

Keenan said plays with multiple characters that are all women are rare, and Haviland added, “There are many plays out there that are just men; it’s our turn.”

Kennan said the play explores “what happens when a new person (a sister-in-law with radical ideas) comes into a tightly knit family.” It is also a journey of discovery that starts with the youngest sister, Irina, and spreads to the others.

“Irina is in an upper-class social bubble of Russian nobility-adjacent, and we were in our bubble of liberal arts college, getting our degrees, being able to pursue our dreams … without too much hardship,” Haviland said. Just as the transition to the challenges of the real world opened the eyes of the two 2017 Hofstra University graduates, so Irina’s eyes are opened.

Erle said that at the time of Chekhov’s play, Russia had recently freed the serfs, although that was just a first step, and inequality was still rampant. She said that somewhat parallels conditions in the United States today, noting, “wealth disparity in America is hugely problematic.”

“We ‘d love to — through art — be able to open other people’s eyes the way ours were opened,” Haviland said, “hopefully to make people think more about other realities in this world, in this country.”

In addition to the wealth gap and class inequities, those realities include racial disparities.

Erle, an LNT veteran based in Chicago, and Haviland, based in New York, play two of the sisters. The third sister, Irina, is played by 2023 Montpelier High School graduate Coyah Mosher, an LNT veteran who is in the NYU-Tisch BFA acting program; the sister-in-law, Natasha, is played by Boston-based Swetha Vissapragada, a rising senior in the BFA musical theater program at Pace University. 

Although the play deals with serious issues, the playwrights and director all said it is sprinkled with surprises and has an “enormous” one at the end, along with a lot of humor. As in real life, Erle said, the play has “fun amidst the hardships of life.”

Keenan noted that Mark Evancho is doing set design and Cora Fauser is the costumer; Samuel J. Biondolillo is the lighting designer, Andrew Vachon is the sound designer, and Kim Ward is the stage manager. Brandy A. Perez is the choreography consultant.

“Three Sisters, Four Women” runs at Lost Nation Theater, in Montpelier’s City Hall Auditorium, Thursdays through Sundays, May 30–June 16. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m., Sunday performances at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the Montpelier City Clerk’s Office, at lostnationtheater.org, or 802-229-0492 (Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m.–3 p.m.). Because last summer’s flood made the elevator inoperable, attending in person requires climbing stairs. The play will be streamed to be accessible.