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The Sisters Reviews

So how does one reimagine Anton Chekhov's 1901 psychological theater piece Three Sisters for the age of Oprah? Well, you could transplant it from provincial Russia to 21st-century New York City and give the tormented siblings the kind of childhood traumas that keep confessional talk shows and the self-help industry in the black, which is pretty much what playwright Richard Alfieri did. The result was first staged at the Pasadena Playhouse, directed by TV-movie vet Arthur Allan Seidelman and starring Meg Foster, Season Hubley and Charlotte Ross. Seidelman and Alfieri teamed up again for this movie version with Maria Bello, Mary Stuart Masterson and Erika Christensen taking over the roles of the Prior sisters, beautiful Marcia, intellectual Olga and baby Irene, whose "surprise" 22nd-birthday party kicks off the action. The girls all long vaguely to return to the family home in Charleston, a gracious reminder of the days when they were Southern belles whose future seemed bright with promise, but none more than Irene, who was too young to remember those wonderful days and knows them only through her older sisters' nostalgic stories. Irene's party is held in a lavish faculty lounge at the university where Olga teaches English literature, and the guests include department head Dr. Chebrin (Rip Torn) and fellow profs Gary Sokol (Eric McCormack) and David Turzin (Chris O'Donnell), as well as Marcia's put-upon psychoanalyst husband Harry Glass (Steven Culp), the girls' weak-willed brother, Andrew (Alessandro Nivola), and his vulgar, shrewish fiancee, Nancy (Elizabeth Banks). The evening's surprise guest is Vincent Antonelli (Tony Goldwyn), who worked as a teaching assistant to the Priors' late father (Greg Foote) back in Charleston. The party hasn't even started when the histrionics do: Marcia tells a story about Nancy that paints her as a scheming shop girl looking to marry into respectability, and Nancy responds (in the kind of New Yawk honk that exists only in movies) that Marcia's husband only married her because she was so screwed up. The claws are out and never retract, especially after Irene collapses from a crystal-meth overdose and the family secrets come tumbling out. Bello is phenomenally good as the embittered Marcia, while Stuart and Christensen do their best with their less complex roles, but they're all undermined by Alfieri's shrill, mannered dialogue and cliched backstories that wouldn't be out of place in a dysfunction-family-of-the-week movie.