By George Basler

Bringing Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters “fully alive” for modern audiences is the goal that Will Pomerantz has set for himself as he directs a production of the classic play at Binghamton University. The drama opens Feb. 22 in BU’s Watters Theater.

Pomerantz has cut some minor characters, combined two characters into one and trimmed what he calls some redundancies in the text. But his adaptation “is not a wrecking ball approach,” he said. You don’t mess with a genius.

Pomerantz came to BU’s Department of Theatre as a guest director for the production. His resume includes directing and developing new plays and musicals for such theaters as American Repertory Theatre.2nd Stage, Playwrights Horizons, The Public Theatre, Hartford Stage, The Williamstown Theatre Festival and the Mark Taper Forum. He currently is associate artistic director of Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, N.Y.

While it was first performed in 1901, Three Sisters, as is the case with all great plays, speaks to today’s audiences in a very personal way as it deals with issues of love, loyalty and fear, Pomerantz said, noting: “The nature of human beings hasn’t changed much in 100 years.”

The titular siblings live in a dreary provincial town from which they long to escape for the excitement of Moscow.

In his short life — he died at 44 — Chekhov established himself as one of the seminal figures in the birth of early modernism in the theater. Three Sisters is considered one of his masterworks, along with Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard and The Seagull.

Although Chekhov’s plays can get labeled as overly somber, even mopey, the playwright repeatedly said he was writing comedies, Pomerantz noted. The director added that he wants to bring out those comedic elements in the BU production.

“What interests me is mining the comedy in the people,” Pomerantz said.  “These are not depressed, lethargic people. It’s really the opposite. They are smart, talented, vibrant people in these circumstances.”

The 11 cast members in the production are all students, none of whom had previously worked on a Chekhov play. Pomerantz said he’s excited exposing young actors to Chekhov’s greatness. The challenge is that they may have a tough time relating to the characters’ disappointments, he added while noting: “But they’ve had disappointments even at a young age.”

Pomerantz is also helping students understand the cultural context of the time when Chekhov wrote Three Sisters. The play premiered only 16 years before the Russian Revolution swept away the Romanov autocracy  and dramatically altered life for the landed gentry portrayed in the play. This is a class of people whose way of life was soon to disappear, Pomerantz said.

In Three Sisters, there are moments of sorrow right next to moments of joy, he said: “That’s Chekhov’s genius.”

IF YOU GO: Binghamton University’s Department of Theatre will present Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters Feb. 22-25 in the Watters Theater of the Anderson Center. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets at $10 and $20 can be ordered on the Anderson Center website, (go to Upcoming Events). The box office can be reached at or at 607-777-ARTS.