By Alyssa Apuzzio
The Don Evans Black Box Theater in Kendall Hall was bursting with laughter during four nights of the comedy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” which was performed by All College Theatre (ACT). The theater was filled with students of the College, faculty and members of the public.
Brought to life by a small cast consisting of only six actors, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” ran from Wednesday, April 6, to Saturday, April 9. The skilled theater group was excellent in creating the comical, dramatic and serious atmospheres that the script required.
The comedy play, written by renounded playwright Christopher Durang, focuses on the relationships of three middle-aged siblings, Vanya, Sonia and Masha. Vanya and Sonia live together in their childhood home and Masha is an actress who rarely visits her siblings. The play takes place during a visit from Masha and her boy toy, Spike, and shows the three siblings conversing about their lives and their emotions. And of course, as most siblings do, they argue with one another.
“To bring the script to life, the actors needed to find the real person in these characters,” show director and College alumnus Steve Gaissert ’85 said. “Everyone needed to believe that the characters they embodied were real, three-dimensional, living, breathing people — flawed, but with real feelings and doubts, but who always loved themselves for who they are.”
ACT President and senior computer science and interactive multimedia double major Matthew Steurer, who played Vanya in the production, said the biggest challenge of the role was trying to embody the age of the character.
“I am clearly not 57 like Vanya, so trying to find specific things to try and make myself appear older was probably the biggest struggle during the entire process,” Steurer said.
For some actors, age wasn’t as difficult to portray as the character’s personalities were. Freshman communication studies major Sam Franz, who played Sonia, felt that the hardest part about Sonia is playing a character that is depressed for a significant amount of time.
Franz did have a scene that excites her and made her enjoy her role the most.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever smashed a cup on the ground, but it’s one of the most fun things to do and I get to do it twice a show. It’s so much fun,” Franz said.
Vanya, Sonia and Masha all have their own set of problems and they reveal them throughout the play. In one scene, Sonia and Masha are both crying very loudly and dramatically over their negative thoughts about their lives.
“I think people were most surprised by how convincing the actors playing the three siblings were in their depiction of characters who are more than twice their actual ages,” Gaissert said. “We worked very hard on this aspect from day one, and I am proud to declare that they met this goal even better than I expected.”
The setting of the play is in Bucks County, Pa., where Vanya and Sonia live. The set was the living room of Vanya and Sonia’s house, with a patterned couch, a coffee table and a bookshelf to add to the home atmosphere. There was also a staircase leading to an upstairs balcony that overlooked the living room. The set remained the same throughout the play, with only the minor changes of moving the coffee table or some of the chairs.
While six actors covered the stage, the production team consisted of 46 members.
“The amazing set was designed, built and dressed by countless people, including the actors themselves, and it, too, exceeded my expectations,” Gaissert said. “This is true, too, for the lighting and sound crew and designers. Everything they created seemed truly real.”
The entire cast and crew worked hard to put on the production. Freshman math major Rebecca Conn, who played the neighbor Nina, said that the cast initially rehearsed four days a week, which then became five days per week as the show date grew closer.
“This small cast has been amazing,” Conn said. “We have gotten so close during this process. It makes me so happy.”
Senior history and secondary education dual major Rachel Friedman, who played Cassandra, was more than glad to be a part of the cast, as well. Cassandra is quirky and cleans Vanya and Sonia’s house once a week. Friedman saw the production when it was on Broadway a few years ago and remembers it fondly.
“This is my last production with ACT before graduation and I knew I wanted to be involved in some capacity, simply because I love the show so much,” Friedman said.
Gaissert expected the students would not be able to dedicate 60 hours for the play, with wavering expectations for the play’s outcome.
“I quickly learned, however, just how truly dedicated everyone involved in the production was,” Gaissert said. “Since not every actor attended every rehearsal, it varies, but I can happily state that it topped out at over 80 hours for some of them.”
The play originally premiered in 2012 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., and then made its Broadway debut in 2013, winning the Tony Award for best play and the Drama Desk Award for outstanding play the same year.
“I hope the audience takes away the importance of family. For this play especially, family is defined in so many different ways,” Friedman said. “That and the importance of staying positive and hopeful in the face of trials and difficult times with family.”
Gaissert is very satisfied and proud of how the play was produced and performed.
“The result for the entire production was that we were able to present a play with fully-believable characters, so that audiences did not have to willingly suspend their disbelief that a 20 year old was pretending to be a 57 year old, thus taking away from their overall experience with absorbing the meaning of the play,” Gaissert said.