Christopher Durang’s Drama Desk and Tony Award-winning comedy which, while requiring no familiarity whatsoever with the work of Anton Chekhov, offers Durang’s signature screwball take on Chekhovian themes to arrive at keen insights into the absurdities and agonies of 21st century life.
May 26 – June 12, 2016
by Christopher Durang
directed by Diana Marbury
Cassandra – SMERALDA ABEL
Vanya – ANDREW BOTSFORD
Masha – ROSEMARY CLINE
Nina – AMANDA GRIEMSMANN
Sonia – JANE LOWE
Spike – EDUARDO RAMOS
MORE ABOUT THE PLAY / THE PLAYWRIGHT
Master absurdist Christopher Durang insists Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is not a Chekhov parody. Instead, he said, he took Chekhov scenes and characters “and put them into a blender.” The concoction he whipped up is a modern-day zany drama of comical gloom that doesn’t require any familiarity at all with the works of the Russian master dramatist.
Ben Brantley of The New York Times described this 2013 Tony Award-winner as a “sunny new play about gloomy people.” Fifty-something Vanya and his adopted sister Sonia — both single — still live in their childhood home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, mourning the emptiness of their lives. Their dreariness is suddenly blown apart by the arrival of a third sibling, Masha, a glamorous and gallivanting actress, who bankrolls their lives while enjoying a champagne-and-caviar lifestyle. Masha sweeps in with old baggage in tow — vanity, insecurity, one-upmanship — as well as a much younger, sexy boy-toy, making for a riotous weekend full of delightfully despicable behavior.
Taking Chekhovian themes and characters and airlifting them 100 years forward to millennium America, Durang showcases his witty, screwball perspective on modern-day trials and tribulations. Yet, unlike in some other Durang plays, there is genuine pathos here alongside the hilarity.
SMERALDA ABEL (Cassandra) was last seen on stage in Le Poisson Rouge’s B*tch. She most recently directed The Hushbackner Lulabye by Amy E. Witting at Abingdon Theatre Company. Her first short film–Customer #935–was part of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and other festivals. She is now in pre-production as director for another short film, The Key. Smeralda was on CBS’s The Young and the Restless and has made a career as a commercial actor in numerous commercials and radio voice overs. Smeralda attended and graduated from Labyrinth Theater’s Master Class and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She has recently studied with Ivana Chubbuck in LA. Smeralda is happy to make her debut with HTC and is humbled by the generosity of the cast and crew.
ANDREW BOTSFORD (Vanya) has appeared in 42 Hampton Theatre Company productions since 1985, most recently as David Bliss in Hay Fever. Other stage work includes Round Table Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s Scottish Play in 2013 and Tonight at 8:30 at Guild Hall’s John Drew Theater. The host of a summer film commentary program at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, he is also the co-host of the annual Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival. Andrew works in the MFA in Creative Writing and Literature program at Stony Brook Southampton, and has continued his study of acting, directing and playwriting at the campus during summer conferences. The director of HTC’s production of Heroes in January 2014, he also directed this season’s production of Theresa Rebeck’s Dead Accounts.
ROSEMARY CLINE (Masha) last appeared with the HTC as Judith Bliss in Hay Fever. An original member of the company dating to its very first production, she has had leading roles in more than 30 productions and also spent many years performing in the city and in summer stock. She is pursuing an MFA in directing and acting at Stony Brook Southampton, where she has studied with Mercedes Ruehl, Joanna Merlin and Rinde Eckert. For the past seven years she has been the director of the Westhampton Beach High School productions. Many thanks to our director, Diana, the cast and crew, and always to Jane Stanton. My love to Christopher, Cashew and Carter… with a wink to Mom, Dad and June.
AMANDA GRIEMSMANN (Nina) is thrilled to return to the HTC stage following her appearances as Sheila Birling in An Inspector Calls, Jackie Coryton in Hay Fever and Myrtle Mae Simmons in Harvey. A Long Island native, she received a BFA in theater from Adelphi University. She most recently performed at Guild Hall’s John Drew Theatre in a stage reading of the play My Girl. She has performed for several seasons in Manhattan with The Inwood Shakespeare Festival. Her other favorite credits include: Steel Magnolias, Arsenic and Old Lace, Don’t Dress For Dinner, Hamlet Q1, and The Crucible. She has also performed with The Lafayette Salon Series, a monthly reading series that meets at The Players Club. A special thanks to Diana for this opportunity! Love to friends and family, physically and spiritually, for their constant support and encouragement.
JANE LOWE (Sonia) is thrilled to return to the HTC stage after a long hiatus. She is happy to make this her 16th production with the company. Jane began her career as a dancer, performing in major theaters and opera houses throughout the world, including the Kennedy and Lincoln Centers. She was in the Broadway production of Oh, Calcutta! and appeared as a Kit-Kat girl in the premiere of Cabaret in Berlin, Germany. Jane has also performed in many Off and Off Off Broadway productions. She was also a principal in many national commercials. This Jane is forever grateful to another Jane, Jane Stanton, for bringing her into the family of the HTC.
EDUARDO RAMOS (Spike) is honored to make his Hampton Theatre Company debut. An NYC-based actor, he has appeared in episodes of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, TV Land’s The Jim Gaffigan Show, and Univision’s Nuestra Belleza Latina. In 2013, he was named “Best New Actor” in a Spanish language play at the Premios ACE for his portrayal of Leonardo in Lorca’s Bodas de Sangre. A very special thanks to director Diana Marbury and his new Quogue family. Endless love to the Lawson clan, his friends and family, his parents for their constant support and his guardian angel.
CHRISTOPHER DURANG (Playwright) is a writer known for works of outrageous and often absurd comedy who first achieved popular acclaim in the 1980s with a string of successful plays including The Actor’s Nightmare, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You (Obie award), Beyond Therapy, Baby with the Bathwater, The Marriage of Bette and Boo (Obie and Dramatists Guild Awards) and Laughing Wild. More recent works include Sex and Longing, Betty’s Summer Vacation (Obie award), Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge and Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them. Durang won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best Play in 2013 for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.
DIANA MARBURY (Director, Set Decor), whose directing credits include last season’s productions of Hay Fever and Harvey, as well as God of Carnage, How the Other Half Loves, Black Tie and others, is delighted to be directing Durang’s outrageous comedy to complete HTC’s 31st season. Diana has appeared in over 50 HTC productions, most recently as Grandma Kurnitz in Lost in Yonkers and Barbara in Dead Accounts. She would like to thank her dedicated cast and crew as well as all the people and businesses that provide the furniture, decorations, and props for each show. Also, a big hand to our wonderful patrons for their continued support.
SEAN MARBURY (Set Designer) worked in NYC in textile design as an artist and sales rep for several prominent European design houses. He found inspiration first in the diverse art and culture of Manhattan, and later in his travels throughout Europe. He then moved to California where he built sets for TV series, commercials, and films. He has also worked extensively in design, engineering and fabrication of race car components, as well as high-end residential construction. His set designs for HTC include Deathtrap, Other People’s Money, Other Desert Cities, The Foreigner, Harvey and Time Stands Still. In his spare time, Sean enjoys his first creative love, the guitar.
SEBASTIAN PACZYNSKI (Lighting Designer) has designed all the company’s productions since 2004 as well as the theater’s lighting system. He has designed lighting for theater, dance and special events in a number of Broadway, Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway and regional venues. He has also worked in film and television as the director of photography. He has designed numerous productions for Guild Hall and for the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival.
TERESA LEBRUN (Costume Designer) is the resident costumer for the Hampton Theatre Company. She started helping with costumes in 1986 and has designed the costumes for all the company’s productions since 2005. Teresa also costumes for Center Moriches and Westhampton Beach high schools. Much love to her boys Josh and Noah, family and great friends.
CHRISSIE DEPIERRO (Stage Manager). It’s been a wonderful season at HTC. Many thanks to Russell Weisenbacher and Catherine Maloney for all their help with this production. Thank you to everyone who has put their all into the show, techs, crew and construction. Love to my stars Kristopher, Theresa, Matthew and Samantha.
MARYAM (Rob) DOWLING (Lighting & Sound Technician) has done lighting and sound for 22 years with various theater groups on the East End. Maryam has also helped Sebastian with lighting setup at Guild Hall, the Ross School, and other local venues. This is Maryam’s seventh season with the Hampton Theatre Company and she is very happy to be part of the show and the company.
HAMPTON THEATRE COMPANY (Producer) is in its 31st season of bringing wonderful plays to Long Island’s East End. Thanks to the generosity and unstinting support of the Village of Quogue, 23 of those years have been spent at the beautiful Quogue Community Hall. The company has presented more than 100 plays by the world’s greatest playwrights, all listed in these pages, and is immensely grateful to our generous patrons, friends and audience members who have made these years such a success.
Director – DIANA MARBURY
Set Design – SEAN MARBURY
Lighting Design – SEBASTIAN PACZYNSKI
Costume Design – TERESA LEBRUN
Sound Design & Original Music – MARK BENNETT
Set Decor & Properties – DIANA MARBURY
Stage Manager – CHRISSIE DEPIERRO
Techincal Support – RUSSELL WEISENBACHER
Set Construction – MATTHEW CONLON, JAMES EWING, SEAN MARBURY, MICHAEL MORONEY, SEAMUS NAUGHTON, EDUARDO RAMOS, ROB SANTORO, WILL YAMKA
Lighting/Sound Tech – MARYAM (Rob) DOWLING, SEAMUS NAUGHTON
Production Graphics – JOE PALLISTER – DESIGNINGJOE
House Manager – JULIA MORGAN ABRAMS
Advertising Sales – CATHY SCHWARTZ
Production Photographer – TOM KOCHIE
DINNER AND THEATER PACKAGES:
Library Dinner & Theater Packages are available for VANYA & SONIA & MASHA & SPIKE
The Rogers Memorial Library (Southampton) and Westhampton Free Library (Westhampton Beach) Dinner and Theater packages for June 2 and June 10 are sold out.
The Quogue Library package has a very limited number of seats still available for Friday, June 3. Dinner is at the Quogue Club at 5 pm, followed by the show at 7 pm. The cost for dinner (including tax and tip) and show is $70. Please call the Quogue Library at 631-653-4224 to make a reservation. (Quogue Library members will be given first priority for reservations.)
The Hampton Bays Public Library package is sold out.
‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ Stirs Postmodern Chekhov and Absurdist Humor In Quogue
By Lorraine Dusky (Southampton Press)
Five characters in search of a play find plenty to chew on in Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” as currently staged by the Hampton Theater Company in Quogue. Audiences in search of a theme may be a bit more befuddled as the writing bounces around like a hot air balloon buffeted by wind gusts, blowing absurdist one minute, affecting the next, and ridiculous the one after that.Postmodern light summer fare it is.
Title alone—henceforth “Vanya et al.”—announces to anyone with a minimal knowledge of theater that the play will be a sendup of Chekhov, and indeed, the writing is stuffed with references to the—dare I say it?—dreary Russian drama’s “theater of mood.” However, while getting all the theatrical in-jokes will make one feel quite smugly self-satisfied, there is plenty to enjoy here for everyone. When I find my face drawn into a smile during a scene, what’s not to like?
The story itself is pure Chekhovian: Two 50-ish siblings are watching their lives drift by aimlessly at a country home as they wait for a sighting of a blue heron (instead of a seagull, get it?) at their pond.
Of course they can’t be your everyday drudges with humdrum jobs, so one is gay (Vanya), the other adopted (Sonia, see what I mean?). In fact, they are solely supported by their successful but not-quite-over-the-hill sister, the vivacious Masha (…yes) who’s been paying the bills.
She is home for the weekend with her latest lover, a boy toy with glittering pecs and a pre-ironic mind. His name adds an absurdist postmodernist touch: Spike, given name Vlad. Masha’s about to shake up her siblings’ dreary world by announcing that her career as a “nymphomaniac serial killer” in the movies has been spiraling downward, along with her ability to keep paying the bills.
Into this mix comes nearby visiting ingénue (Nina, naturally) and a tough-talking housecleaner, Cassandra, who quotes snippets of Greek drama as her name implies, but knows her voodoo too. Smeralda Abel as Cassandra commands the stage every time she appears, not only because she’s given some of the best lines that go from portending doom to “I need to get my car inspected,” but because she’s just damn good. The writing screams out for expansive acting to take advantage of it, and Ms. Abel goes for the kill. A newcomer to the Hampton Theatre’s retinue, we hope to see more of her.
As Mr. Durang moves about the characters in a plot as thin as a poor man’s porridge, they will attend the neighbor’s costume party, most of them attired as Disney characters from “Snow White.” Vanya will eventually morph into Uncle Vanya, and the unassuming Sonia will be transformed from a dumpling in pajamas to someone with the possibility of a life outside of this particular cherry orchard. Yes, of course, there would be such an orchard in this hodgepodge of Chekhovian delights.
Jane Lowe, returning to Hampton Theatre after a long hiatus, as Sonia is another standout in the cast as she transforms from neurotic spinster with a gloomy world view to flippant party-goer with more on the horizon. You do want her to succeed as the drama moves to its expected happy ending. Mr. Durang himself wrote in the Playbill when “Vanya et al.” made its 2013 Broadway appearance: “My play is not a Chekhov parody… I take Chekhov scenes and characters and put them into a blender.” With a play so thick with references, we beg to differ about the “parody” denial.
Eduardo Ramos as Spike gleefully bounds about in his skivvies whenever possible, which ain’t a bad thing as Mr. Ramos ain’t bad to look at, and he plays the buffoonish lover and would-be actor with the right touch of unaware cheekiness. He knows when he’s wanted in the bedroom, but give the boy time—he might surprise us all yet.
Fans of Hampton Theatre will happily recognize Rosemary Cline as Masha, up to her usual heights as the family diva, as well as Amanda Griemsmann as the possibly not-so-sweet ingénue Nina, who works her way into the family quagmire with swift aplomb. She’s both aching to be an actress and to inveigle her way into Spike’s affections.
Andrew Botsford is someone whose comedic gift I have previously extolled, but here one wishes he would take full advantage of Mr. Durang’s broad writing and veer to more outrageous oratory. Yet Mr. Botsford’s given an insufferably long rant near the end, so who’s to blame, playwright or actor? As Vanya, he decries the innocence of a bygone era, a time of stamps you lick, phones you dial, and tasks completed one at a time, when Ozzie and Harriet ruled on black-and-white TV and Tab Hunter was in the closet but his studio stood behind him. There’s much more, and what else Mr. Durang could have stuffed into that soliloquy, I know not.
Against now-forgotten competition, “Vanya et al.” won the Tony as well as the Drama Desk Award for best play in 2013. As amusing summer theater, the always competent cast in Quogue does well by this lesser Durang.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” continues through June 12 with performances Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at Quogue Community Hall, 125 Jessup Avenue, Quogue. Tickets are $30 for adults, $25 for seniors excluding Saturdays and $10 for students under 21. Call 866-653-8955 or get tickets here
A Ridiculous Romp Through Chekhov and Bucks County
By Beth Young (East End Beacon)
If you’ve never had even a passing interest in the works of playwright Anton Chekhov, chances are you’re a member of the ideal audience for the Hampton Theatre Company’s production of Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” which opened this past weekend and runs through June 12.
Sure, the three main characters are named after Chekhov characters. But the reasoning behind the three siblings’ names is straightforward — their parents were college professors with a penchant for community theater.
And yes, the play does take place on a soon-to-be sold estate, a running theme throughout Chekhov’s work. The estate is even in a cherry orchard, though most of the characters just see the orchard as a dozen or so scraggly trees.
But Chekhov never got to write for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He never got to include a cameo of Maggie Smith being nominated for an Oscar. There are no actors practicing their strip tease in any of his plays. And there is no record that he ever visited Bucks County, PA.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” which won the Tony Award for best play in 2013, is pretty darn funny, and Hampton Theatre Company’s cast, under the direction of Diana Marbury, does a fine job playing it right.
The play opens on two siblings — Vanya, a half-closeted confirmed bachelor played by Andrew Botsford, and his adopted bumbling and angry sister Sonia, played by Jane Lowe. They are living together in their deceased parents’ Bucks County home, spending their days bickering and wondering what to eat, while their movie star sister Masha, played by Rosemary Cline, is off making movies and paying their bills.
If you don’t see this play, you’ll likely never again get a chance to see Andrew Botsford in both a nightgown and a dwarf costume. He takes on Vanya as a perpetually meek and resigned man who secretly writes plodding plays about climate change, his cheeks sunken, his dejection complete, his affect toothless and bumbling. But he really is just plain charming.
Ms. Lowe is a secret weapon in this show’s plot. As a whiny bipolar resentment-laden adoptee who perpetually scrunches up the bridge of her nose to keep her glasses from slipping, she’s downright annoying. She’s supposed to be. But she’s bound to snap, and when she does, what hatches is a debonair monster in a green sequined gown — Maggie Smith about to win an Oscar in “California Suite,” upstaging her adopted sister in a roar of glee.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is referential in the extreme — it’s a post-modern play for a post-modern audience — keenly aware of its own irrelevance and intent on manufacturing an air of irreverence. At some points it forces you to sit tight and listen in agony to its inner workings. Mr. Botsford’s Vanya bears the brunt of this writing, in a jarring diatribe against text messages, selfies, the internet, the warming planet and just about everything about the modern world. This is the spinach and broccoli of this play. You have to eat it. It will make you strong. Maybe.
If you’re not going to the theater to eat your spinach and broccoli, rest assured, Rosemary Cline’s melodramatic stage hog Masha (she is supposed to be this way) brings some eye candy with her when she visits to tell her wretched siblings she’s selling the family home.
Her wannabe actor boy toy Spike, played by Eduardo Ramos, spends most of the play lounging around in his briefs and licking Masha’s neck. He’s ridiculous and he doesn’t know it, but you will know it and love him for taking your mind off the agony of the wasted lives of our Chekhovian siblings.
If strip teases aren’t your thing, perhaps some voodoo will help. Housekeeper Cassandra, played with bewildering mischief by Smeralda Abel, also has a literary lineage to live up to — she’s been cursed like Apollo’s Cassandra, spouting prophesies that no one believes. But you don’t need to get that literary reference either. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t.
The audience can’t ever tell if Cassandra’s possessed moments are an act or the work of demons. She leaves us guessing at her motivation every moment she’s on stage.
Actually, there are many moments in this play when the actors on stage seem to be grasping at a definition for their motivation. It can be painful to watch, but it does seem to be a part of Mr. Durang’s meta plan. It’s unsettling, to say the least.
If there’s one character who isn’t unsettling, it’s naifish neighbor Nina, played by Amanda Griemsmann. She stumbles upon Spike as he splashes around the Chekhov family’s duck pond in his underwear, and then follows him back to their house with an earnest desire to meet the famous actress Masha.
Nina is thrilled because it is her very own “name day” — a holiday synonymous with one’s birthday celebrated only by youngest sister Irina in Chekhov’s “Three Sisters.” You really don’t need to know that either.
Masha invites Nina to a costume party with her family and Nina shows up in a princess costume from K-Mart. She willingly agrees to change into a Dopey the Dwarf costume at Masha’s request. She ends the play as a wisp of a molecule in Vanya’s post-human climate diatribe script, a sprite dancing around the absurdity of this tortured family home.
The producers of this play are right that you don’t need to know anything about Chekhov to enjoy it — in fact, I can’t imagine it would help much if you did.
These characters are too post-modernly pigheaded to understand the pathos of their predicament. Let’s just say that, while Chekhov mulled over the themes of lives wasted, this play holds a mirror to a society filled with wasted lives.
But, heck, we can take selfies now, so maybe we don’t even need a mirror anymore either.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” runs at the Quogue Community Hall at 125 Jessup Avenue through June 12, with shows on Thursdays and Fridays at 7, Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 2:30.
An audience talkback with members of the cast and the director will follow the performance on Thursday, June 2.
Tickets are $30 for general seating, $25 for seniors (except on Saturday night) and $10 for students under 21 and are available online here
or by calling OvationTix at 1.866.811.4111.