Three Sisters 

Three mottled columns dominating the tiny stage serve as apt metaphors for the title characters, forever marked but not entirely broken by the exigencies of life at the end of what might be the saddest of Chekhov's plays. Director Michael Patrick Thornton's minimalist approach--and a five-month rehearsal process--should mean the acting is the focus. But though the blocking is smooth, many of the performers seem hesitant rather than fully invested in their characters. Hillary Clemens is heartbreakingly good as youngest sister Irina, and Brendan Donaldson nearly steals the show as Kulygin, Masha's good-hearted yet maligned husband. But several of the other performers don't vary the overall tone of emotional aridity, denying us the wrenching climax Chekhov sets up. --Kerry Reid a Through 9/30: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Gift Theatre Company, 4802 N. Milwaukee, 773-283-7071, $15-$25.

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