Three sisters Play by Anton Chekhov. Produced and performed by Squat Theater.

The Squal Theater has built a reputation as one of New York's most outlandish troupes, largely because -- according to legend, anyway -- they don't rehearse. They just decide what they're going to do, and then do it.

When applied to a classic like "The Three Sisters," this approach could simply mean bad Chekhov. What emerges is something quite different, however. the play has been drastically reworked, according to the company's own lights: Three young men play the title characters, dressed in white shirts and trousers, toying with appropriate props. They remain mostly in the same positions throughout, and no other actors appear. An invisible prompter supplies their lines, which they repeat with a minimum of expression, accompanied by a violinist wearing a skeleton mask.

The net effect is a sort of ritual -- a play pared down to its most basic elements, yet drenched in its own proper atmosphere. If this is Chekhov transmogrified, it is also Chekhov distilled. The essence of his great play has been caught in a few key words and gestures that impress us all the more by their resonance in such a radically unconventional evening at the theater.

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