When Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike opened on Broadway in 2013 — a run, by the way, that won the Tony Award for Best Play that year — theater goers and critics alike hailed the comedy as a brilliant new adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.
But Durang was quick to respond, “My play is not a Chekhov parody... . I take scenes and characters and put them in a blender!”
And, indeed, this reiteration of the Russian playwright’s characters and situations follows a pattern of disagreements and challenges that have haunted the history of The Cherry Orchard since its premier at the Moscow Art Theatre in January 1904.
That production was directed by the famous theatrical director and educator, Konstantin Stanislavski. Stanislavski appreciated the pathos and tragedy of the family losing their home and estate as the forces of cultural change swept across Russia: the rise of the middle class, the loss of power and wealth by the aristocracy, and the fate of individuals caught in social evolution larger than any one man, woman, or family. Those were the themes he emphasized in that first production, but the performance enraged the playwright, Chekhov, who understood his script as a gentle comedy poking fun at human foibles.
So out of Durang’s blender comes a story with familiar characters and places, such as the cherry orchard resplendent in spring, returning to the original intention of its early 20th century creator: comedy.
And what is it about this comedy that resonates so well with audiences now in the 21st century? I’m thinking that it is these amazing characters — Vanya, Sonia, Masha, Spike, Cassandra, and Nina — that remind us of the people that bring color into each of our lives.
I had an aunt who was the essence of Masha, and a great aunt who was the complaining Sonia. My own grandmother was a bit of a Cassandra and my father, the sweet, even-tempered Vanya. I also had a roommate in college who had trouble keeping his clothes on! Do you see some of these folk in the chapters of your life?
Or perhaps we understand each of these characters as the emotions, tempers, intellects, and foibles in our own, individual makeup. As a young college student I was, in many ways, a starry-eyed Nina; I keep a sharp watch on my emotions so I don’t turn into a whining Sonia; and I confess, I have enjoyed skinny dipping on more than one occasion in my rich life. Whom do you see in this cast that in some ways reminds you of yourself?
Words fail me when I attempt to write what a delight it has been to work with this amazing talent to create this performance for you. Each one of these actors is a powerhouse of creativity and our time together has been enriching and great fun.
In addition, the designers and production crew are some of the finest you will find anywhere, and every time I receive an invitation to return to the Civic Theatre and direct, I jump at the chance because I know the quality of the artists with whom I will be working.
I thank them all from the bottom of my heart, and thank each one of you for coming to see the fruits of our labors. Welcome to Bucks County, Pennsylvania!