Act I takes place on May 5th of an unspecified year, in an unspecified provincial town in Russia. It is the twentieth birthday of Irina, the youngest of the sisters mentioned in the play's title. It is also the one year anniversary of the death of their father, Colonel Prozorov, who moved his family there from Moscow eleven years earlier. Irina and her older sisters, Olga and Masha, receive visitors, members of the military battery that is assigned to the town. The sisters discuss how bored they are with the town, how they long to move back to Moscow, and their brother Andrei, who will probably become a university professor. Olga, who is twenty-eight and the oldest sister, expresses interest in the new lieutenant colonel who has been assigned to the town, Vershinin, but is told that he is married, with two children. Chebutykin, the drunken old doctor who had been in love with the girls mother, gives Irina a silver samovar for her birthday, which is considered an inappropriate gift. Vershinin arrives, explaining that he knew the sisters' father back in Moscow, and that he remembers them from when they were girls. When he talks philosophically about how time makes all their lives insignificant, Solyony, a rough staff captain, mocks him by spouting gibberish. The sisters explain that they have been teasing their brother Andrei for being in love with a local girl, Natasha, who is married to the chairman of the county board, Protopopov. Masha's husband, Kulygin, arrives to take Masha to a school function, but she angrily refuses to go. Tuzenbach, an army lieutenant, expresses his love for Natasha, but she expresses her disinterest in him. When Natasha enters, Olga feels sorry for her poor fashion sense and suggests that her belt does not match the rest of her clothes. When everyone else leaves for the dining room for the celebration, Andrei tells Natasha of his love for her and asks her to marry him. Act II
Almost a year later, in mid-February, Andrei and Natasha are married and living in the family house. The sisters have invited their friends and some performers from the carnival that is in town over to the house, but Natasha tells Andrei that she objects to letting them in because she is worried about the health of their baby, Bobik. Ferapont, an old servant, enters with paperwork for Andrei, who is the secretary of the county board. When they leave the room, Masha and Vershinin enter and discuss their love for each other. Irina and Tuzenbach enter; he still is in love with her, and she is still uninterested. They discuss the great gambling losses that Andrei has incurred. Vershinin is called away by a letter from his daughter, saying that his wife has attempted suicide once again. Solyony arrives, is rude to Natasha, and is threatening to Tuzenbach, the reason for which becomes clear later in the scene, when he expresses his love for Irina and vows to kill any rivals. Natasha has the carnival performers sent away when they show up at the door, and, while Irina is upset about Solyony's threatening words, asks her to move out of her bedroom and into Olga's so that the baby can have her room. She goes to the door when she hears a sleigh bell and comes back acting surprised that it is Protopopov, come to take her for a ride, explaining that she feels that she has to accept. Kulygin and Vershinin enter the scene again the former's meeting is over and the latter's wife is all right to find that everyone has gone. The scene ends with Olga complaining of her terrible headaches and Irina repeating her wish to return to Moscow. Act III
Act III takes place nearly four years after the opening of the play; Irina, who was twenty then, tells Olga that she is "almost twenty-four" while explaining how washed up she feels. This act takes place in the bedroom Olga and Irina share, while a fire is spreading across the neighborhood outside. Olga is choosing clothes from her closet to give to the fire victims,...