THREE SISTERS, Wing & Groove Theatre. Trust this treasure from 1901 and the rewards are enormous: Anton Chekhov’s “what might have been” far outweighs most writers’ “what has to be.” Mired in provincial life, the Prozorov sisters ache for love and work and Moscow. But they travel far more than they know, reaching across a century to tell us who we are.

Director Andrew Gall believes in the play’s silences and in its words, well chosen in Paul Schmidt’s down-to-earth translation. Appearing bored but never boring, Gall’s actors (looking authentic in Imma Curl’s impeccable period costumes) seem caught in the act of living, never of acting. There are some weak moments in the work of this strong ensemble, but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts–as is right for Chekhov. Allen Hope Sermonia grounds the idealistic baron in a kind of muddled decency, while Robert May’s well-meaning Vershinin is almost paralyzed by his ineffectual good intentions. They may dream of a better future, but the active characters–Jamie Kelsey’s feckless, dangerous Solyony and Amy Tourne’s predatory Natasha–chill us with their killer energy.

The Prozorovs remain compassionate witnesses to their own obscurity. Painfully, Tristan Poje’s once promising Andrey slowly sinks into an unquestioned mediocrity. Marcia Reinhard’s Olga survives but to no end, and Denise Marunowski’s lovely Irina fades before our eyes. Most wonderful is Ellen Morley’s richly detailed Olga, offering a powerful vision of thwarted love mutating into sisterly solidarity. Chekhov would have loved her. –Lawrence Bommer