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Shakespeare & Co: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Review)

Short Description of Shakespeare & Co: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Review)

Tony Award Winner!
Berkshires Premiere 


Review (scroll down for press release)

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Shakespeare & Co., Lenox, MA


through September 14, 2014

by Jarice Hanson

Though the title may reference Chekhov, there is only a wink and a nod to his work in Christopher Durang’s comic treatment of the master’s works. Add the skill of a talented director (Matthew Penn) and a stellar cast, and this production will have future audiences giggling and guffawing at squabbling siblings, pop culture, repressed desire, and libidinous lust. This show leaves no doubt as to why Durang won the 2013 Tony for Best Play with this gem.

In the Shakespeare & Co. production, director Penn has used his knowledge of how to interpret the work in an intimate setting, emphasizing the tensions between characters while allowing the audience to participate as voyeurs. An actor’s director, he trusts his actors’ instincts while giving them original bits to allow each one to shine in their own special way. The director’s note in the program states, “This play’s popularity is a credit to Durang’s wonderful ability to make theatrical moments simultaneously funny and touching…” Definite agreement here. Yes, the material is wonderful, and yes, the director has an expert touch, but in this case, each member of the ensemble deserves to take a bow for creating such memorable performances.

Vanya (Jim Frangione) is a cerebral, repressed 50-something man who lives with his despairing adopted sister, Sonia (Tod Randolph) in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Masha (Elizabeth Aspenlieder), their movie star sister “adored by many and loved by few,” comes for a visit with her sexy boy-toy (Mat Leonard). Newcomers Angel Moore as Cassandra the fortune-telling, voodoo practicing cleaning lady, and Olivia Saccomanno  as Nina, the innocent young neighbor, add wonderful layers of comedy and sweetness to advance the story. This talented ensemble take their audience on a hilarious, but heart-felt journey as each character comes to terms with who they are, and what they mean to each other.

This play is currently being produced in theatres around the country, and undoubtedly will be produced for years. Kudos to Shakespeare and Company for presenting such a memorable production, and for capping off their summer season with heart and warmth.

[Interview beneath listing]
Shakespeare & Company Presents
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre
August 6 – September 14

“We used to lick postage stamps back then! We ate spam just like the soldiers in World War II did. Have you heard of World War II?” Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Act II, iv

(Lenox, MA) – With a healthy dose of hilarity, heart and humility Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike joins the Bernstein repertory with director Matthew Penn at the helm. Christopher Durang’s Tony-award winning homage to Chekhov leaves no stone unturned when it comes to family dynamics, sibling rivalries, love, lust, hopes and dreams in this razor sharp comedy. The stalwart cast includes audience favorites Tod Randolph and Elizabeth Aspenlieder, and S&Co. newcomers Jim Frangione, Angel Moore, Mat Leonard and Olivia Saccomanno. Performances run in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre August 6 – September 14Press Opening is Friday, August 15 at 8:00pm.

OBIE Award-winning playwright Christopher Durang sets his newest comedy in a rural Pennsylvanian family farmhouse, where Vanya and his adopted sister Sonia find their lives turned upside down when their narcissistic movie star sister, Masha, shows up with her prized and much younger boyfriend Spike. With a series comic twists,  turns, and surprises Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike pays loving tribute to Anton Chekhov’s classic themes of loss and longing, as the Russian playwright is turned on his ear in this clever comedy primed for our social media-minded and modern world. Durang (Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for YouThe Marriage of Bette & Booand Laughing Wild) garnered national recognition netting the Tony Award for Best Play in 2013 for its Broadway run.
“With Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Christopher Durang has succeeded in writing a play that is both a satire of, and tribute to, the works of Anton Chekhov,” says Penn. “What is wonderful about this play is whether you are a Chekhovian theater scholar or a casual theatergoer, there is fun to be had by all. Durang brings three adult siblings together who battle the jagged issues that have kept them apart for years. While Vanya and Sonia battle the monotony and repetition of the dull life that surrounds them, their sister Masha struggles with a life in which she is adored by many but loved by few. In these precious days while facing an impending crisis they make an effort to find each other again. They try to understand what is missing in their lives and try to attain what they believe they have lost and it is here where Durang and Chekov intersect. Both writers portray lives stuck in emotional grown-up despair in which change and therefore hope are elusive—and yet in Durang’s comedically adroit hands that despair is quite funny….sometimes hilarious. As one of the characters says, ‘If everyone took anti-depressants Chekov would have had nothing to write about’— it is this kind of affectionate wit that characterizes the play and perhaps urges us all to take a chance and change our lives for the better.”
“I’m excited to be working with such a dexterous and talented cast, who are really adept at comedy,” continues Penn. “I’ve worked with Jim for over a decade between Berkshire Playwright’s Lab and other projects in NYC, and had the pleasure of working with Elizabeth last season in The Beauty Queen of Leenane—and I promise there will be no blood or murder in this play—we’ll keep the bloodshed in the rehearsal room” he says with a laugh. “I am also very happy to have a chance to work with long time Company actor Tod Randolph, whose work I’ve admired for many years and new comers Mat Leonard (who is also doing double-duty and acting in Julius Caesar), Olivia Saccomanno and Angel Moore—all of whom are just terrific.”
Of note, Penn and Frangione are Co-Artistic Directors of The Berkshire Playwrights Lab, along with Joe Cacaci in Great Barrington, MA.  S&Co. has been teaming up more and more with BPL on several projects including the Company’s 2013 Studio Play Series reading of An Impossible Life(directed by Cacaci and written by David Black), and recently with a new Jane Anderson play,Mother of the Maid that featured Company actors Tina Packer, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Nigel Gore, and Kaileela Hobby that ran in BPL’s Staged Reading Series.
Christopher Durang is the playwright of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Selected plays include A History of the American Film (Tony nomination, Best Book of a Musical), The Actor’s NightmareSister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You (Obie Award, Off-Broadway run), Beyond Therapy (Broadway), Baby with the Bathwater (Playwrights Horizons), The Marriage of Bette and Boo (Public Theater, Obie Award, Dramatists Guild Hull Warriner Award), Laughing Wild(Playwrights Horizons), and Durang Durang (an evening of six plays at Manhattan Theatre Club, including the Tennessee Williams parody For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls).
Matthew Penn, second season with S&Co., director of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and last season’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, began his directing career at New York’s Ensemble Studio Theater but is best known for his work in episodic television where he has directed and /or produced over 150 episodes of some of TV’s best known series. His credits include: Law and OrderDamagesThe SopranosHouseNYPD BlueRoyal PainsThe CloserPrivate Practice,Golden Boy and the new Netflix series Orange Is The New Black. Penn was nominated for an Emmy for the 200th episode of Law and Order starring Julia Roberts, and  was the show’s Executive Producer for four seasons during which time he produced nearly 100 episodes. He has had roots in the Berkshires for over 40 years and is a co-artistic director of the Berkshire Playwrights Lab.
For tickets, Gift Cards and information about the 2014 Performance Season: visitwww.shakespeare.org, or call the Box Office at (413) 637-3353, or stop by in person at 70 Kemble Street, Lenox, MA. Ticket prices for The Bernstein Theatre range from $10 to $60, with discounts from 10-50% off regular ticket prices for Groups, Students, Seniors, Teachers and the Military. Our very popular 40% Off Berkshire County Residents’ Discount is again available. Both the Playhouse and Bernstein theatres are wheelchair accessible and hearing-aid assisted. To learn more about the season, discount availability, to order tickets or request a season brochure, visitwww.shakespeare.orgGroups: For bookings, parties, and special event rental information and details contact David Joseph, Director of Sales & Group Tours, at (413) 637-1199 ext. 132 orgroupsales@shakespeare.org
Christopher Durang
Director: Matthew Penn
Cast:  Elizabeth Aspenlieder (Masha), Jim Frangione (Vanya), Mat Leonard (Spike), Angel Moore (Cassandra), Tod Randolph (Sonia) and Olivia Saccomanno (Nina).
Set Designer: Patrick Brennan
Lighting Designer: Matthew Miller
Costume Designer: Mary Readinger
Sound Designer / Composer: Ian Sturges Milliken
Sound Board Operator(s): Cooper Stone and Iain Fisher
Stage Manager/Light Board Operator: Laura Kathryrne Gomez
Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre
Performance Dates:
Wednesday, August 6, 2014 8:30 PREVIEW
Thursday, August 7, 2014 8:30 PREVIEW
Friday, August 8, 2014 3:00 PREVIEW
Sunday, August 10, 2014 8:30 PREVIEW
Tuesday, August 12, 2014 8:00 PREVIEW
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 8:30 PREVIEW
Friday, August 15, 2014 8:00 PRESS OPENING
Saturday, August 16, 2014 3:00
Wednesday, August 20, 2014 8:30
Thursday, August 21, 2014 3:00
Saturday, August 23, 2014 8:30
Sunday, August 24, 2014 3:00
Tuesday, August 26, 2014 8:00
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 8:30
Thursday, August 28, 2014 3:00
Friday, August 29, 2014 8:00
Saturday, August 30, 2014 8:30
Sunday, August 31, 2014 8:30
Friday, September 5, 2014 8:00
Saturday, September 6, 2014 3:00
Saturday, September 6, 2014 8:30
Sunday, September 7, 2014 3:00
Friday, September 12, 2014 8:00
Saturday, September 13, 2014 3:00
Saturday, September 13, 2014 8:30
Sunday, September 14, 2014 3:00 CLOSE

Originally produced on Broadway by: Joey Parnes, Larry Hirschhorn, Joan Raffe/Jhett Tolentino, Martin Platt & David Elliot,  Pat Flicker Addiss, Catherine Adler, John O’Boyle, Joshua Goodman, Jamie deRoy/Richard Winkler, Cricket Hooper, Jiranek/Michael Palitz, Mark S. Golub & David S. Golub, Radio Mouse Entertainment, Shawdowcatcher Entertainment, Mary Cossette/Barbara Manocherian, Megan Savage/Meredith Lynsey Schade, Hugh Hysell/Richard Jordan, Cheryl Wiesenfeld/Ron Simons, S.D. Wagner, John Johnson  in association with McCarter Theater Center and Lincoln Center Theater. Originally commissioned and produced by: McCarter Center Theater, Princeton N.J. Emily Mann, Artistic Director; Timothy J. Shields, Managing Director; Mara Isaacs, Producing Director;And produced by Lincoln Center Theater, New York City Under the direction of Andre Bishop and Bernard Gerstein in 2012.  “Here Comes the Sun” Written by George Harrison Published by Harrisongs, Ltd. (ASCAP Used By Permission. All Rights Reserved. VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc., New York.


Matthew Penn, Guest Director
From the director’s vantage point at Shakespeare & Company
by Jarice Hanson and Shera Cohen
Act I: The Interview
The following is a paraphrased interview with Matthew Penn, director of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” performing at Shakespeare & Company (S&C), Lenox, from August 6 - September 14. The interview took place during the first week of rehearsal. 
The Tony Award winning play by noted playwright Chrtopher Durang tips a hat to Chekhov’s look at family dynamics, sibling rivalries, love, and dreams under the umbrella of razor-sharp comedy.
Penn’s primary credits are as director and producer of television and theatre. Penn has directed and/or produced over 150 prime time TV dramas including Law & Order (2003 - 2007), NYPD Blue, The Sopranos, House, Damages, and The Closer. He has been nominated for an Emmy Award. Prior to TV, Penn spent many years working in theatre. Last summer, Penn directed “Beauty Queen of Lennane” at S&C. 
Q: What drew you to this show?
MP: I was drawn to its sweetness. It’s tons of fun. Having worked here last year, I enjoyed the experience. My family has had a house in Stockbridge for about 50 years, so I feel at home in the Berkshires
Q: What is it about “Vanya and Sonia...” and this venue that appeals to you?
MP: The audience here is very erudite. This play gives an affectionate nod to Chekov, but you don’t need to know Chekov to get the idea that this is about three siblings with all of the squabbling siblings go through. A casual theatre-goer can have lots of fun. There’s the kind of affectionate wit here that perhaps urges the audience to take a chance and change our lives for the better.
Q: Have you seen a production of this play before?
MP: I saw this in New York, but well before I knew I would be directing it. I thought that Jim Frangione (a Berkshire Playwrights Lab co-founder) to play Vanya. I thought that Elizabeth Aspenlieder would be Sonia, but then Tod Randolph auditioned and she was “born to play Sonia.” So Elizabeth became Masha. There are also a number of newcomers to S&C in this production. 
Q: Do you have any favorite moments yet?
MP: I usually have a series of  favorite moments, but it’s too soon in this rehearsal process to have any yet. Plays are a conflation of writing talent, acting  talent, and as a director, I just need to know when to get out of the way.
Q: What was your first directing experience?
MP: It was “The Marriage Proposal” -- interestingly by Chekhov, which I directed very badly when I was still in school. 
Q: Which do you enjoy more -- directing TV or live theatre?
MP: I love live theatre because the audience is right there with you. In “Beauty Queen,” for example, you hear the immediate laughs and gasps. There’s no substitute for live theatre.
Q: Is there a relationship between Berkshire Playwrights Lab (of which Penn is one of the founders) and S&C?
MP: Not officially. Last year I asked Elizabeth and Tina Packer (S&C. founder) to do readings at the Lab. I have always considered myself a fan and think of it as “a special place” largely because of Tina’s vision. 
Act II: The Rehearsal
Down what seemed like a maze of hallways at the Bernstein Theatre is a rehearsal room. It’s large, open, white, and unexciting. We sat in the few chairs situated against one wall. A table to the side held bagels and cream cheese. There was nothing fancy about the setting. Any thoughts of seeing the actual play set were quickly dashed, as the actors worked with only a few chairs. Each actor greeted us warmly -- highly unexpected, as we were the ones who interrupted their work.
Today’s rehearsal was Act II, Scene I featuring four of the actors. Penn had already (a week or so prior to our visit) set the scene, pace, character interaction, etc. which the actors stepped into. They wore casual summer wear...no costumes. They stood. Each held a script -- this is called an open book reading -- but the actors had already memorized most of their dialogue. It was instantly clear that three of the characters were siblings and the fourth, a young stud boyfriend of one of the sisters. The actors didn’t “just” read; they acted each line, addressing the others. 
Let’s do it again...this time sitting on chairs in a semi-circle. On occasion, the actors walked to feaux settings and held pretend props as they felt appropriate, undirected yet in character. Periodically, they talked to each other and asked Penn questions. There were no lengthy discussions.
It was Matthew Penn who walked and paced, deliberately and with concentration. He often held his hand under his chin. He said nothing, didn’t laugh, just watched from all angles. He let the rehearsal scene play out. Only then did the significant conversation take place. Yes, conversation. This was not dictatorial direction, but a give and take between the actors and Penn.


It will be exciting to see the “end product” on stage. 

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Address: 70 Kemble Street, Lenox, MA

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