Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Written by Christopher Durang
Directed by Richard E.T. White
Limited Season · Roda Theatre
September 20–October 27, 2013

Winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play!

Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission

Christopher Durang—Obie Award winner of such rollicking comedies as Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You and The Marriage of Bette & Boo—turns Chekhov on his head in this witty and incisive new farce for our modern hyperconnected world. In bucolic Bucks County, PA, Vanya and Sonia have frittered their lives away in their family’s farmhouse full of regret, angst and the alarmingly ambiguous prophecies of their addled housecleaner Cassandra. Enter their sister, self-absorbed movie star Masha, with her prized 20-something boy toy Spike, and the stage is set for an absurd weekend of general hilarity and global warming. This year’s Broadway sensation, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike delights audiences with its abundant comic twists while paying loving homage to Chekhov’s classic themes of loss and longing.

Creative team

Christopher Durang · Playwright
Richard E.T. White · Director
Kent Dorsey · Scenic Design
Debra Beaver Bauer · Costume Design
Alexander V. Nichols · Lighting Design
Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen · Original Music & Sound Design
Michael Suenkel · Stage Manager
Leslie M. Radin · Assistant Stage Manager
Julie McCormick · Dramaturg
Amy Potozkin · Casting
Calleri Casting · Casting
Dylan Russell · Assistant Director
Lynne Soffer · Dialect Coach
MaryBeth Cavanaugh · Movement Consultant

Cast

Anthony Fusco · Vanya
Lorri Holt · Masha
Mark Junek · Spike
Caroline Kaplan · Nina
Sharon Lockwood · Sonia
Heather Alicia Simms · Cassandra

“Misery loves comedy…Nobody can make misery funnier than comic treasure Sharon Lockwood. As Sonia, the spinster left behind to care for dying parents at the rural homestead, Lockwood shares every momentary grievance, lifelong resentment and gloomy expectation with sidesplitting earnestness. She’s even funnier when she stops kvetching, breaking an enforced silence with a sigh. She’s perfectly matched in Richard E.T. White’s effortlessly charming production by Anthony Fusco and Lorri Holt as her siblings—adoptive, as everyone points out—Vanya and Masha. The names aren’t the only things Durang’s borrowed from Chekhov. Personalities, situations, plot developments, lines and themes derive from a bountiful mash-up of Chekhov’s four major plays with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Ingmar Bergman, the Beatles, Old Yeller, the Oresteia and Maggie Smith thrown in…Hilarious!”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Roars from start to finish…The production boasts performances that play ridiculousness to the hilt and performers who seem to revel in every moment of it…Despite the excesses, the three central figures in the six-character play rise above mere caricature. Beneath all the fun and frolic, they’re capable of redemption and affection, as Chekhov’s people were. And the other three deliver a superabundance of silliness through speech, movement and mugging…It’s a wonderful start to the season.”—Huffington Post

“Smartly directed by Richard E.T. White, this outrageous romp is a hoot and half…Christopher Durang’s madcap fantasia on Russian themes is so over the top that it’s inside out…The playwright, famed for his flair with farce from The Marriage of Bette and Boo to Beyond Therapy, packs the uber-absurd plot with so many belly laughs that the wistfulness at the core of the hijinks is all the more poignant…The sincerity of Durang’s fondness for his eccentric characters and the honesty of his discontent with the ‘now’ lends the otherwise goofy plot a sense of gravity. Global warming, short attention spans and the tyranny of pop culture all come under fire as these quirky characters ponder what the future holds, not just for themselves, but for a civilization uncertain how to reinvent itself in the face of cataclysmic change.”—San Jose Mercury News / Bay Area News Group

“Durang shows us just how funny unhappiness can be. Directed by Richard E.T. White, a top-notch cast assumes characters of Chekhovian proportions to take a freewheeling ride through contemporary angst…White’s well-timed production reaches its comic zenith as the characters dress for a neighbor’s costume party. But the director keeps the laughs coming throughout.”—San Francisco Examiner

“The entire cast is a delight, but there’s special pleasure in watching Fusco and Lockwood and Holt bring their unique talents to bear in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a zany family comedy with the zing of sparkling wine and, thanks to marvelous actors, the occasional tang of real champagne.”—Theater Dogs

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Prologue: from the Artistic Director

When I think of Christopher Durang’s plays I’m reminded of my Uncle Pasquale’s funeral. We loved Uncle Pasquale. He was robust as a young man with a huge, infectious laugh. But as he got older, he got weird. His paranoia became the stuff of family legend. During the last 20 years of his life he probably left his house twice. Both times undercover. For years no one saw him.

So when the rent-a-priest at his funeral launched into a eulogy describing Uncle Pasquale as a “man of the community,” my siblings and I started to squirm. As the priest went on to portray him as a man who “loved mingling amongst us,” we started kicking each other, and then giggling, finally bursting into wildly inappropriate laughter that mortified my parents and filled us with years of guilt.

Christopher Durang understands this kind of uncontrollable laughter. He’s built his career on creating characters that can’t help themselves. However crazy they might be, however extreme their behavior, they are simply acting on their own truth. Durang resists being overly mean towards them. He seeks to reveal their logic rather than simply mock their ridiculousness; and ultimately, he empathizes with the sufferers. For all the wicked satire in his plays, all the darkness that lies underneath the surface of his dramatic situations, he chooses to forgive his characters through laughter.

Both the laughter and the forgiveness are on full display in his latest gem: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Loosely inspired by the work of Chekhov, this play takes on the modern world with comic relish mingled with a kind of brokenhearted sympathy. The two tones are married together like an odd couple that can’t be untangled from each other. The result is something entirely recognizable and original.

To direct this play, it’s a great pleasure to bring back my old friend, Mr. Richard E.T. White. For many years, Richard was a stalwart member of this community (for real, not like my Uncle Pasquale), before he took his talents to Chicago and then Seattle. He reunites with many of his oldest collaborators on this project, as well as some great folks who are new to our Theatre. Together they enter Durang’s unique laboratory, where they get to dissect the comedy and the pathos and make some theatrical magic of their own. It’s a great way to kick off the new season, and we welcome each and every one of you.

Sincerely,

Tony Taccone

Prologue: from the Managing Director

For many, autumn signals the waning of the year, with the sun setting earlier, children returning to school, and that inevitable hunkering down in anticipation of winter. During this time, squirrels hoard food, and bears store fat. Autumn is when one buckles down to business after the respite of the summer.

And yet, for me, autumn has always meant something completely different. It has always signaled the beginning! We’ve spent at least a year talking with artists, assembling teams of creative partners, and constructing performance calendars (then deconstructing and reconstructing them again). Tickets have been sold and budgets approved. Now, we are finally able to close the books on everything that came before and turn our full attention to a new season of performances.

The first day of rehearsals for the first production of the season has its own traditions. We assemble the entire staff, many members of our board, and our most deeply committed supporters and volunteers for one grand beginning. When I look at this heady mix of people I am always reminded that what we do here at Berkeley Rep is the result of a somewhat unwieldy, ongoing exercise in collaboration in the service of a larger calling. Our goal, always, is to produce theatre that challenges, enriches, stretches, entertains, and sometimes even confounds our artists and our audience members.

Our route to that end varies constantly. Sometimes that means reclaiming a mighty classic; sometimes that means uncovering an emerging creative voice. Berkeley Rep’s task with each play is two-fold: to do whatever we can to give each play and each group of artists every opportunity to be wildly successful, and to give our audiences the tools and resources to fully experience each one of those productions.

The first rehearsal for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike was particularly sweet. Welcoming Richard E.T. White, Kent Dorsey, Beaver Bauer, Sharon Lockwood, and Lorri Holt back to Berkeley Rep was deeply gratifying and a bit like a family reunion. Each of them has a history with this company that stretches back to the ‘80s. This production is a special opportunity to bring together our veterans as well as some really wonderful actors who will be new to you. That first day in the rehearsal hall with old colleagues and new ones, with staff members who have been with us for 25 years and the new group of fresh-faced Berkeley Rep fellows, was a reminder that we are a company—a family—with a past, a present, and a future.

I’m so glad that you have joined us for Christopher Durang’s deliriously fun play and that its humor, its heart, and its intelligence make you glad that you’ve joined us for another beginning. Some of you have been with us since our founding in 1968. Whether you’ve been part of Berkeley Rep for decades or are joining us for the first time tonight, welcome. Welcome to our family.

Warmly,

Susan Medak

Epic storytelling and rock ‘n roll

A conversation with Richard E.T. White

By Julie McCormick

Richard E.T. White is a surprising man. In his celebrated and substantial career as a director and educator, he has done many things you would not expect the same person to do. His passion for theatre has led him from the Bay Area to Japan to Seattle, from Brecht to Shakespeare and rock ‘n roll. Over all of his passion is a warmth, sparkle, and generosity of spirit that is evident in every interaction.

Julie McCormick: What did your process of preparing for this particular play entail?

Richard E.T. White: This play is kind of a mash-up. It’s a fond embrace of both high and low culture, which is a wonderful thing for anyone who is working on it. There’s a kind of wonderful roller coaster of references that you need to ride while putting yourself into the world of the play.

I think one of the things that appealed to me almost immediately when I read the play is that I’m basically the same age as Vanya and have a lot of the same reference points. One thing I look for is that familial connection. When you talk about process, I think one of the things an artist has to do is find ownership, and find one’s own way into the play. I remember Ozzie and Harriet, I’m confused about cell phones and text messaging, and although my parents were not college professors who dabbled in community theatre, I did note with affection that my father courted my mother by stage managing productions that she was in at our local community theatre in Trail, British Columbia. So one of the things that I’m doing is combing through my own autobiography and finding how the play can become personal to me. And I think that’s something that any artist needs to do. What I’ve discovered about myself as a director is that the more I can invest and be in the world of the play on a personal level, the better the experience is for me and the more I actually have to offer my collaborators on the play.

So I’ve been looking at the Disney movies, looking at Smiles of a Summer Night, and reading the Chekhov plays to try and get a sense of what it was that Mr. Durang pulled from, but I’m also enjoying the opportunity to watch the E channel and devour Entertainment Weekly. There’s the world that Vanya and Sonia and Nina live in, but then there’s also that wonderful, bizarre, Fellini-esque world that Masha and Spike bring onstage with them, which is the most foreign world to me. I can embrace Chekhov and I can embrace Ingmar Bergman and even Walt Disney with great ardor and complete identification. What I don’t do, like Vanya, again, like Vanya and Sonia, is that I don’t swim in that particular world of young Hollywood.

Chekhov is a major reference point and has been a way in for you, but do you think that an audience member needs to be familiar with Chekhov in order to appreciate what’s going on?

Oh no, not at all. I think there’s probably an extra layer that comes through if you’ve read all the plays, but I think that ultimately, for all of its literary allusions and allusions to specifics of pop culture, the root of the play is something that is deeply human and very universal, which is, “What does it mean to be a family?” What I respond to is the present tense of those relationships onstage. The sense that there’s this world in which people are contemplating what it means to be at the nether end of their lives. What are the dreams you have that are unfulfilled? Are there still possibilities left in you? Do you feel like the doors of your life are closing, and what can open them? How do we stay attuned to the possibility of miracles in our lives? Those kinds of things are universal—the relationships between brothers and sisters, the relationships between lovers, the idea of the generational difference between young and old…that’s the emotional ground of the play.

And so I think of someone like Stephen King, for instance, who populates his novels with endless citations of pop culture and specifics of culture, but at the same time, you don’t need to know every one of those things that he’s talking about to be pulled along on the thrill ride. And the same thing is true of Shakespeare and, frankly, of Chekhov. If you read the plays of Chekhov again, there’s a lot of information in there that we don’t necessarily know immediately, but that doesn’t stop us from responding to the emotional storytelling in the play. I think the same thing is true of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.

You’re the head of the theatre department at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. When did teaching become a part of your trajectory?

Very early on, actually. The first paid job I had in theatre when I was 20 years old was with an organization called Neighborhood Youth Corps, where I got a summer job through my acting teacher teaching theatre to high school kids.

And when was this? What was that like?

That was back in 1970. My teaching partner Jane Unger and I were very ambitious, and set up these workshops that were going to culminate in a performance of Brecht’s A Man’s a Man. We were going to do it as an anti-war protest, as this was the height of the Vietnam War. So I really started teaching and directing well before I was ready to do it, and the first job I got after I graduated college was a teaching job. I then spent three years as a teacher with the Drama Studio when it was in Berkeley; I taught through the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival (now known as Cal Shakes) when I was there; and a year after I was kindly shown the door by the PhD program at the University of California, they hired me back to teach. I never thought that at a given point I would become a teacher. So much of my life—and I think this is one of the reasons I like the play too—has been a series of miracles and happy accidents and opportunities that arrive out of the blue.

My wife and I embarked on this magnificent adventure in 1992 when we answered an ad in Artsearch magazine on kind of a whim to go teach in Japan, and to our surprise we were selected and hired. So we went off to teach in Japan for three years.

What did you teach there? Theatre?

We taught English at a technical college in Yokohama, and we also taught theatre classes and directed plays at a Japanese language theatre company in Tokyo. It was an enormous spiritual, anthropological, and creative venture for us. I think that’s when I became an educator: it was the experience of being in Japan and realizing how by teaching language and by teaching how language impacts behavior that we were opening doors of perception up to these students. That was fascinating and really rewarding, and we could feel how we were helping to make a difference in the lives and worldviews of our students in Japan.

Your roots go very deep in the Bay Area, and this is a return to Berkeley Rep after a fair hiatus.

Almost 20 years.

What has been your association with Berkeley Rep?

I established myself as a director in the Bay Area in 1979 and had the great fortune to have some success at smaller theatres like the Eureka, and then moved to what was then the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival. Michael Leibert had invited me several times to direct at Berkeley Rep but it had never worked out with my schedule. Then when Joy Carlin took over she offered me the chance to direct a couple of plays in 1984, and that was the time when Sharon Ott came in. Sharon not only confirmed that I would still be directing there, bless her heart, but offered me a staff position. So for two years I was the resident director at Berkeley Rep, and directed I think five plays in the first couple of years that I worked there. It was a great opportunity for me because at the time, Berkeley Rep was kind of a step up in terms of resources and imagination and pushback from artists who were really mature and strong and experienced. It also gave me the Thrust Stage, which is still my favorite theatre that I’ve ever worked in.

And then interestingly, when I moved to Chicago, one of my first friends that I made was Susie Medak, who at the time was the managing director at Northlight Theatre. It was then really serendipitous that Susie came to Berkeley Rep. I was delighted to be able to finally work with her as a freelancer in the ‘90s, when I was in Japan but came back once a year to direct.

I was also in grad school with Tony Taccone for three years. Tony came with me to the Eureka, and after I left as the artistic director at the Eureka, Tony took over that position. Coming back to Berkeley Rep is like coming back to be with family in a lot of ways.

How has Berkeley Rep changed over the years?

What’s wonderful about Berkeley Rep is that it’s a mission-driven theatre. There’s a sense of excitement and bravery in terms of choice of material that’s still extant, but what’s different is that the ambition and scope of the Theatre is so much broader now. Then there’s the Roda, which is this big, beautiful proscenium house. And I have to admit, I’m still a little bit in mourning that I don’t get to work on the Thrust Stage, because as I’ve said, I love that stage and some of the best work of my life has been there, but I’m excited about working in the Roda. In the last several years I’ve had the opportunity to direct a number of shows at ACT—you know, in the big golden box—and I’ve also been able to work at Seattle Rep at the Bagley Wright Theatre, which is another large proscenium house. So coming into the Roda, it’s not as odd as it would’ve been for someone whose initial aesthetic was developed at the Eureka—where we had a big, beautiful flexible space that we could create strange, wonderful environmental pieces in—and in the intimacy of the Thrust. So you know, I might be a little intimidated by working in the Roda if I hadn’t had the opportunity to work in the big golden box and at Seattle Rep, but I’m excited about the possibilities of working in the Roda and creating a welcoming space for an intimate, familial comedy in that beautiful proscenium house.

I’m very curious to see how that happens. And I imagine at least some of this will come through in how the audience interacts with the set.

Christopher Durang actually lives in Bucks County, PA where Vanya takes place, so he has infused the play with a sense of place that’s really quite lovely. Part of our job is to extend that sense of place all the way out into the seats. To create something that’s very specific and authentic onstage, but then that welcomes the audience in and makes them feel like they’re a part of this family and environment. That’s where I feel particularly blessed in my colleagues as well. Theatre is such a collaboration and you’re as good as the people you work with. And in this case I’m blessed to have Kent Dorsey, Debra Beaver Bauer, Alex Nichols, Rob Milburn, and Michael Bodeen, all of whom are artists I’ve worked with for many years. I have a kind of deep trust in them as collaborators and a type of environment that will draw us into the story and the characters of the play.

In your career you’ve worked a lot with new plays but also a great deal with Shakespeare. I’m very curious about how that’s come together for you—because you started in the new play world and moved more into Shakespeare, yes? And that just strikes me as a very unusual direction. How did that happen?

Well, the thread that ties them together is Brecht. Even the kind of new plays that I got my start doing are animated by epic storytelling. The theatre company that really made me want to be an artist in the theatre and really showed me the way to be an artist in the theatre was the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Seeing them when I was a young student in college was a revelation to me: that theatre could actually have a meaning greater than the simple public event of enjoying a show. That you could see a piece of theatre and you could walk away and it could resound and resonate in your mind for years. Which is why all due honor to Sharon Lockwood, you know, because some of my most vivid memories of those early Mime Troupe shows are Sharon Lockwood’s brilliance playing a variety of roles in shows like The Independent Female and The Dragon Lady’s Revenge.

So when I got started a lot of the plays were inspired on some level by Brecht and by the spirit of critique, like The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel by David Rabe, Trevor Griffith’s Comedians, and Mary Barnes by David Edgar. I made my mark in Bay Area theatre as an artist primarily by introducing a lot of writers through the Eureka who were kind of the British heirs and descendants of Brecht. So then moving into Shakespeare was relatively seamless in a way, because Shakespeare was the founder of epic storytelling. What I wasn’t prepared for with Shakespeare was how hard I would fall in love with the experience of directing it, and actually seeing how an audience and that Shakespearean play could create an event together. That was really memorable. And of course part of that is language and part of that again is the epic sweep of storytelling, showing all levels of class, of weaving plots and subplots together…The wonderful challenge to you as a director is to orchestrate this large vision of a world onstage that Shakespeare presents you with.

And so I kind of went from British political plays in the ‘70s to Shakespeare in the ‘80s and then went off to Japan. And the other writer who was kind of instrumental in my growing aesthetic as a director was Sam Shepard. I directed a number of plays by Shepard, and his work appeals to the rock ‘n roll side of me. And of course, there’s a lot of crossover between Brecht and rock ‘n roll—Brecht was a rocker back in the ‘20s in Germany. Shakespeare is a very rock ‘n roll writer as well. His work is pungent, it has a beat, it’s got pace. So you learn a lot by directing classical work, and I think the most important thing that you have to learn as a director—that you get to learn as a director working on Shakespeare—is how much information is actually parked in the dramatic text. One of the arcs I’d like to think that I can look back on in my career as a director is moving from imposing things on a play when I was young to deeply investigating what’s there, and trying to be as attuned as possible to the nuances and possibilities of language.

How does that come to bear on Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike?

Durang is a great language writer—his text is not necessarily poetic in the same way as Shakespeare’s, but it is certainly very precise in terms of the sonic rhythms, the precise placement of words, carefully placed imagery, and how themes are developed and repeated throughout. The experience of directing Shakespeare in the ‘80s has given me this great appreciation of language and what language can do.

So getting back to your first question about what process is, to me it’s become so much more about listening—listening, listening, listening—and opening myself up to the possibilities of language.

You’ve spent a lot of time at regional theatres around the country—where do you think the regional theatre is going to be in 20 years? Where do you hope for it to be is maybe another way to put that.

Well, what I hope is that the regional theatre continues to question itself in the way it’s doing now, because we’re seeing what’s happening now—and I speak for myself—is that a significant portion of the population that has sustained the regional theatre for the last 30 years is aging. I think the question is, how can the theatre continue to makes its connection with a large population and not be a walled off, elitist art form? We have a lot of challenges in terms of taking our work to people. The challenge is to not sit in a house like Vanya and Sonia and wait for life to come to you, but how do you chase the blue heron outside of your house? I think the most exciting recent developments in theatre are events like Here Lies Love, and Young Jean Lee’s untitled feminist show, which are immersive and participatory, or something like the work that the National Theatre of Scotland is doing, like Black Watch and The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Heart. As an audience member you’re invited to become an active member of the event that’s happening. I think that’s crucial.

And then the other thing that I’m seeing as a really interesting and exciting development is a lot of autobiographical work. A lot of the most moving work that I’ve seen uses the real lives of people as a kind of foundation. Something like the German company She She Pop with their show Testament, where the performers were joined onstage by their fathers in a piece investigating the relationships of children to their fathers.

I’ve seen a number of pieces in the last couple years by artists who are investigating what it means to be a child with an aging parent. And that can be narcissistic, but in the hands of an artist—just in the way that a good memoir can be a fascinating read—it has the capability to resonate far beyond. We’re so bombarded by stuff that to find something simple and authentic is quite powerful.

Your question is a profound and useful one. I think there’s an invitation and a necessity to move beyond the walls of theatre and to look at how the theatrical experience can expand out and use technology in interesting ways, that can use the relationship of performer to audience in multiple ways. But the main thing I think is, what will keep audiences coming to the theatre and engaged in the theatre is the sense that they have participated in something. There are a lot of ways to create that feeling, but as I said, I think the thing we have to do as artists is look at how we can create a platform for theatre that is broader and more inviting.

Five questions for Sharon Lockwood

By Julie McCormick

Before the start of rehearsals for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, we asked veteran actor Sharon Lockwood five questions about comedy. From her debut as a rabbit to her years at the San Francisco Mime Troupe and theatres around the Bay Area, Sharon has played to the extremes of the human experience and everything in between

Julie McCormick: When did you discover that you had a talent for being funny?

Sharon Lockwood: I still have this memory—this was back in Connecticut where I was born. I did some Easter play or something, and I remember playing a rabbit and wiggling my nose and everybody laughing. I’ll never forget that moment. When I started acting in junior high and high school, I did a lot of heavy-duty stuff. My first big thing was that I played Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker in high school. I was just a freshman and I was in the senior play. Then I got involved in political theatre and did the San Francisco Mime Troupe for a long time, and it was a side of me that I never got to tap into. It’s one of the things that I’m really excited about with this play because I feel like I get to use both sides of me. A lot of times when you do comedy, people don’t think of you for doing drama. You have to play the reality of the situation, always. It’s never a matter of doing something to get a laugh. That’s the worst way to go. I still am shocked the first time I’ll rehearse a moment and the people watching and will laugh. Then I’ll realize, it’s supposed to be funny, but I wasn’t going for that. Sometimes it’s a mysterious thing.

Does acting in a comedy feel different to you than acting in something more serious?

You know, it depends on the play. Sometimes, particularly if it’s a drama, a play will just take you where you need to go. If it’s an original script, you don’t always know where the laughs are going to be. The audience teaches you so much about that. Sometimes I think comedy is hard and tragedy is easy. You know that old saying. Sometimes it can be physically exhausting. Farce takes so much physical precision and timing.

And then sometimes I’ve also been exhausted by doing a drama. I remember in Juno and the Paycock at ACT—I had one scene where I played a mother at a funeral that kind of changes the direction of the play from a comedy to a tragedy. Before the last time I did the scene I broke down, because it was a scene of containing all the tragedy, but instead of being histrionic about it, I was really containing it. That was so exhausting—to keep it all in, but have it all be there.

So I think it varies from piece to piece. Some things can be more exhausting than others. It’s a craft, and I think that each project is different.

Who or what makes you laugh?

Hm, I’m a little bit of a tough customer. But once I get going…Anthony Fusco makes me laugh; he has such a dry way. There was a YouTube video that an actor at ACT was showing me in the dressing room, and it was a chipmunk looking surprised with this music going, “bum bum bum.” And I just lost it.

Sometimes something can strike you as funny and you really don’t know why. It can be a character, it can be the situation. It varies.

I used to love to watch The Honeymooners, as politically incorrect as that was. Jackie Gleason would make me howl. Things like Fawlty Towers, some of the British shows. I love Doc Martin. It’s this series that they rerun on PBS with a British actor Martin Clunes, and there’s something about this character—he’s this total curmudgeon that lives in this little village with a group of misfits that he has to deal with. And he’s a doctor that can’t stand the sight of blood. It’s full of wonderful character studies, wonderful situations, and it’s been on for five or six seasons and I’m totally addicted. It just makes me laugh out loud.

I’m less interested in laughing at pain. You know the famous thing about the Road Runner cartoons and the anvil falling on Wile E. Coyote. Maybe when I was little it may have made me chuckle, but I don’t know.

There are different kinds of laughter. There’s the laughter of recognition, and then there’s the wry chuckle of word play, or just an attitude that can make you laugh. Then there’s knock-down-drag-out slapstick. There’s lots of different kinds.

I get the impression that sometimes stage comedies are not taken as seriously as dramas or tragedies. Why do you think that might be?

I don’t know. I think it’s because maybe we try to draw a line and have one be on one side and one on the other, when actually, life is full of both things: tragedy and humor. In some of the greats, like Chekhov, you have to see the humor as well.

Have you ever had to do something in a comedy that was so over the top that it felt kind of uncomfortable for you, or crossed a line, or anything like that?

I once had to play someone who worked for the welfare office and became a serial killer who took a hacksaw and figured out all of these ingenious ways to kill major, iconic CEOs. And I thought, oh my God, this is terrible!

But people just howled! They laughed, and just got it. I was so mortified by it at the beginning, and finally I got used to the idea that people know it’s a comedy and that it’s not real. There are so many comedies like that right now that are so popular, like Dexter. He’s such an example of an anti-hero. But I was really uncomfortable with it at first. I’m basically a very peaceful person. But you know, we all have that rage somewhere inside of us. And Sonia certainly has it.

Watch now

On TV

Does our TV commercial for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike remind you of anything?

Masha Masha Masha

Masha Hardwicke divulges the secrets behind her fabulous career—and her love life too!

Meet Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Veteran director Richard E.T. White introduces this Tony Award-winning play and its playful references to Chekhov.

Introducing the season opener

Michael Leibert Artistic Director Tony Taccone introduces Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.

Listen up

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Christopher Durang

A playwright, actor, and educator, Christopher Durang has made a significant mark on the American theatre in his decades-long career. Known for his acerbic wit, absurd situational comedy, and wicked parodies of classic plays, Durang draws on both personal experience and cultural history for the content of his work.

About the playwright

Second Floor of Sardi’s: A Drink with Christopher Durang

  • In this article from Playbill, Christopher Durang discusses the writing process for Vanya… and his relationship with his audiences.

A chat with Durang

  • In this interview with the McCarter Theatre’s literary director Carrie Hughes, Durang chats about the play and life in Bucks County.

Selected works

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Grove)

  • Originally a commission for the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, this Tony Award-winning play made its way to future successful runs at the Lincoln Theatre Center and Broadway.

The Marriage of Bette and Boo (1985)

  • Loosely based on Durang’s parents’ relationship, this dark comedy tracks the dissolution of a marriage over 20 years.

Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You (1979)

  • In this extended Obie-winning one act, Durang satirizes the teachings of the Catholic church, an institution which the playwright has had a long and challenging relationship with.

Chekhov

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike contains numerous references to Anton Chekhov’s major plays. While Durang is known for his parodies of theatre classics like The Idiots Karamazov and Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge, Vanya… is deliberately not a send-up. Instead, it reflects some of the classic Chekhovian characters and themes, including longing, regret, and hope. Though a previous familiarity with Chekhov will enhance an experience of Durang’s play, it is by no means necessary to enjoy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.

The Plays of Anton Chekhov

  • In case you’re eager to read the four major Chekhov plays—The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard—these critically acclaimed translations by Paul Schmidt balance accuracy with accessibility.

Movie and TV references

One of the most delightful things about Durang’s writing is his ability to incorporate references of great scope. On one hand you have references to Anton Chekhov and classical Greek dramas; on the other, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Walt Disney.

Here are a few of our favorite movies and TV shows that the play references:

Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

  • In this first full-length animated film ever, Walt Disney offers his take on the classic Grimm’s fairy tale.

Old Yeller (1957)

  • This is another iconic Disney film about the love between a boy and his dog that has become an American classic.

Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

  • This Ingmar Bergman romantic comedy follows the story of four pairs of mismatched lovers and how they find true love during the longest day of the year. Reminiscent of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this film served as inspiration for Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music and Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

  • This classic noir film thrills and chills with its story of murder, a faded silent-screen actress, and the warping power of fame.

Essential Family Television

  • If you find yourself nostalgic for the wholesome entertainments of 1950s and 1960s television, this collection contains a wide range of some of the classics.

The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show

  • The ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s saw the golden age of the TV variety show. All of the major personalities seemed to host their own musical and comedy hour at some point: the Perry Como Show, the Laurence Welk Show, the Dinah Shore Show, the Bing Crosby Show, the Nat King Cole Show, and one of the longest running, the Ed Sullivan Show. Some of his most famous guests include Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Jackson 5, the Supremes, the Rolling Stones, and Janis Joplin.

I Love Lucy: The Complete Series (1951–1957)

  • And of course, everyone loves Lucy.