FANS of Anton Chekhov, Russia's greatest playwright, will be thrilled to see his masterpiece, Three Sisters , a play laced with laughter and tears, when it is staged next month in Cantonese by the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre. A quality production is in the making because the theatre has invited Phoebe Awards Best Director Tom Markus to direct this gentle tragi-comedy, which Markus describes as 'the kind that makes us smile more than laugh'. 'Chekhov (1860-1904) wrote about characters we recognise and [have such relationships] that interest us,' the resident director for the Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City said. Set in provincial northern Russia between 1901 and 1904, Sisters tells of the life of Olga, Masha and Irina and their nostalgia over their happier past in Moscow and their dream of returning home after their father, General Prozerov, dies. The general's home is a happy meeting place for officers and the intellectual elite, but the three women have their own obstacles to overcome before reaching the new life they aspire to. 'Chekhov's tragedy is not deep tragedy like Shakespeare's,' said Markus, 'It's sadness about the disappointments in life. 'Nevertheless, it always ends with a happy optimism and the characters learn to live with life and look to the future.' Head of Acting at the Academy for Performing Arts Fredric Mao Chun-fai, who translated the play, said it was a difficult task. 'On the surface, Sisters hears like daily conversation, but the underlying meaning is actually quite complex,' said Mao, who himself appeared in the play locally with APA students in 1988. The Hong Kong Repertory Theatre has also invited help from Emmy Award-winner Linda Sarver to be the costume designer and from another award-winner, scene designer Joseph Varga. Although it is Markus' first time directing Chekhov's play, he understands enough about Chekhov to prepare audiences. 'Chekhov is most well-known for [letting] bigger events in life happen not in the main act, but between the scenes or off stage, where we see the characters' reaction to them.' Three Sisters will be staged in the City Hall Theatre on May 6 and 7, 9 to 14 and 16 to 21 at 7.30 pm and on May 13 and 20 at 2.30 pm. Counter booking (half-price for students) at $70, $90 and $120 is available at Urbtix outlets.