Three sisters desperately long to go to Moscow but find themselves unable to make any move to do so. An uncle and his niece are left alone, rejected in love with no hope of any kind. A despairing man is left alone to die in a deserted house, while outside sounds of a beloved cherry orchard being decimated can be heard. Chekhov employed these scenarios as his dramatic groundwork when writing his timeless masterpieces. And in the deft, comedic hand of playwright Christopher Durang, these same themes, ideas, and situations resonate with ripe and unlimited comic potential in the 2013 Tony Award winning play, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”
When I was cast as Vanya in the Weathervane Playhouse production, I was thrilled, as I had long wanted to try my hand at playing the role. Inspired to create a character that was originated by the wry, hilariously funny David Hyde Pierce on Broadway, I was very much taken with the complexity of the role. Vanya is the emotional center, the heart of the play. Vanya is kind and generous with boundless empathy. He is smart and has a quick wit. He misses a time where people found connection and meaning in simpler things and he longs for that kind of security and comfort. He worries about the future and the many changes he has witnessed– the scary shifts in the weather concern him greatly. He also has a hidden artistic side that Nina (Erin Moore) brings out in him. Vanya is quietly gay and possesses the incredible gift of being able to calm and center those around him, most notably his contentious sisters Sonia (April Deming) and Masha (Meg Hopp).
Vanya and his sister Sonia were caretakers for their elderly, infirm parents for most of their adult lives. Now that their parents have died, they find themselves unable to leave the house they grew up in and start new lives for themselves. Their sister Masha had been seemingly absent from their lives for some time. She was pursuing her film acting career and making the money that paid for the house and all the expenses incurred by Vanya and Sonia while they were caregivers.
Now that her parents are gone, Masha has decided to sell the house, which brings forth new conflicts and old resentments between the three siblings. Each sibling is lost: Vanya, clinging to the past and worried about the future, all the while cognizant that life is rushing past him; Sonia, afraid that she hasn’t lived, despairing that nothing ever seems to change and fearful that she will die having lived a life with no point; and Masha, unnerved by her seeming inability to choose the right kind of men, and disappointed and unsatisfied that her acting career, though successful, hasn’t been the one she envisioned for herself. Vanya cries out in his second act rant, “…it’s all separate…our lives are…disconnected.” It is this existential disconnection Vanya feels on a more personal scale. He is disconnected from his siblings. However, it is only when a parent dies that a child can truly become an adult, and when a parent dies, siblings are all that are left. In this way, Vanya, Sonia and Masha come to a tender and heartfelt realization that the most important thing they have in their lives is each other.
The Weathervane cast is nothing short of spectacular. This is the first time I have worked with April, who plays Sonia, and I have found her to be a delight, onstage and off. She brings to Sonia a blend of hopeful sanguinity and sweet insecurity, and is hilarious at the same time. Her telephone monologue is truly a highlight; though our “California Suite” moment is still one of my favorites in the show.
This is the fourth time I have been fortunate enough to share the stage with Meg Hopp, who plays Vanya’s glamorous and self-involved sister Masha. Meg’s sense of comic timing is unerring and her attention to detail is second to none. But Meg brings to Masha a vulnerable insecurity that delights and resonates. The respect, friendship, and affection Meg and I share allow our scenes to reach another level. Playing siblings with a rich emotional history is affecting and overwhelming– the love we share onstage comes easily.
The cast is rounded out by three more wonderful actors: David Boncyk as Spike, Masha’s current boy toy, Jo McGarvey as Cassandra, the soothsaying cleaning woman, and Erin Moore as Nina, a lovely aspiring actress who visits Vanya and Sonia from next door.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention that I feel most fortunate that my director is the incredible Eileen Moushey. Eileen’s direction is quick, fast, and funny. She is a master at mining a scene for comic gold. Eileen and I have grown very close– she is an actor’s director. I have come to realize that her direction and mentorship are nothing less than spectacular. She has worked tirelessly with me on shaping my Vanya, and thus shaping the play. “Vanya” is a brilliant comedy that will delight all audiences. I am very proud to be a part of it, and I thank Eileen so much for that gift. As well, Eileen and I are connected in one last profound way: it is our synchronous belief that the finest comedies are those with a hilariously witty outside and a tender heart at their center. That couldn’t be truer for what “Vanya” is to all of us.
- Thursday, May 5 at 7:30 p.m.
- Friday, May 6 at 7:30 p.m.
- Saturday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m.
- Sunday, May 8 at 2:30 p.m.
For tickets, please visit www.weathervaneplayhouse.com or call 330.836.2626.
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