THREE SISTERS, Porchlight Theatre Ensemble, at Footsteps Theatre. At a time when so many fledgling companies seem to regard parochialism as an ideal rather than a liability, the Porchlight ensemble’s attempt at a classic is certainly commendable. But a full production of a four-act period play as dense as Chekhov’s Three Sisters is daunting even for the most seasoned and well-funded of troupes. Earnest young thespians with “two boards and a passion” can’t help but stagger under such a weighty project.

In this brave but undeniably underdone classroom exercise, the actors recite their speeches duti-fully, but director Wm. Eric Bramlett plays whole scenes offstage, leaving us to stare at an empty room while voices drift in from behind the drapes. A bootstrap budget requires the sisters to pass some four years without a change of clothing, and most of the dashing army officers make do with only T-shirts beneath their resplendent tunics. The cast’s predominantly midwestern accents (with the exception of Beata Swiderska, making her English-language debut in the role of Irina) continually pull the characters away from Chekhov’s world and into that of, say, Beth Henley.

It’s no disgrace to bite off more than one can chew, especially in the service of bringing great dramas to the stage. But a more modest undertaking might be in order for the Porchlighters next time.

–Mary Shen Barnidge