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Broadway show to play at UA

Photo Courtesy of Kendall Judy and Corey Rives

Cokie Thompson

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A 59-year-old actress comes home from the big city to visit her brother and sister. She brings along her much younger boyfriend and the neighbor’s pretty niece wants to learn from the actress. The housemaid spits out prophecy which everyone ignores, all cloaked in references to Anton Chekhov’s plays and Sigourney Weaver’s 
acting career.

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” opened on Broadway in 2013 and won the Tony award for best play. In 2015, it will be the most produced play in the U.S. at regional theaters, including the Marian Gallaway theater as part of The University of Alabama Theatre and Dance season.

Director Jeffrey Tangeman, assistant professor and head of the Master of Fine Arts directing program, first proposed the play when the UATD faculty was planning the season. Tangeman said he thinks it’s one of the best-written plays in the last 15 or 20 years of 
American theater.

“I love the play very much, and so that was a major motivator for me, but it was also really nice to be able to look at the play and say, ‘There are great opportunities for our students as actors and as designers to work on this play,’” he said.

The cast is a range from freshmen to third-year MFA candidates and 
the design team is all students. Costumes range from everyday clothes for Vanya and Sonia to a replica of Disney’s iconic Snow White costume for Masha.

The title, along with much of the play, references the work of Anton Chekhov. Although those familiar with Chekhov’s work will catch those references, Tangeman said the level of knowledge isn’t necessary to understanding the play.

“I think what makes it so different from the Chekhov plays is that while Chekhov wrote many of his plays as comedies, they were very subdued, they were kind of under the radar, whereas this play, in very typical Christopher Durang fashion, is over the top,” he said.

Sarah Jean Peters, a third-year MFA candidate in acting, plays Cassandra, Vanya and Sonia’s housemaid. She said she didn’t picture herself in the role until the audition process.

“I enjoyed living in the character,” she said. “She’s a very big character, vocally and physically, so it really stretches me as an actor.”

Cassandra is very much a secondary character, brought in for a laugh every now and again, Peters said. Cassandra is psychic and uses her abilities to act as a kind of Greek messenger.

“So where there are all these Chekov references in the play that reference Russian theater, I come in and I’m like from Greek tragedy foretelling all these things that are going to happen in a very physically and vocally large way,” she said.

Durang based Masha on Sigourney Weaver and wrote the role for her to play, including references to Alien in Masha’s Sexy Killer franchise. Taylor Schafer, a senior majoring in theater, plays Masha in the UATD production.

Schafer has played older women before, but she said Masha was a new journey for her. She said because the play is so new, there aren’t any video recordings of performances available, which changed the way she prepared for the role.

“It’s a bit different when you don’t have a role model to go exactly to, so I found myself doing a lot of research on Sigourney Weaver who plays Masha in the original cast and looking at her in other movies and looking at her walk and her speech and her hair flips and all these funny things,” Schafer said.

She said Tangeman is known for letting actors move around in their characters while still giving them the direction needed to keep everything together.

“He’s very hands-off initially, which gives us freedom to make different choices and to find out what choices are comfortable for us and which ones aren’t, and then he kind of goes in and sculpts the final product,” Schafer said.

Tangeman said the relationships to real life don’t stop with Masha. At the end of the play, Vanya has a monologue in which he talks about how he’s afraid of change and the way technology is influencing culture.

“And it’s so very clear that that’s how he feels, how the playwright feels about his place in the world, and it’s very moving,” he said.

Whether it’s Cassandra, Masha, Vanya or anyone else, Tangeman said all the characters have their own lovable quirks. He said everyone can relate to at least one character in the play, if only through their flaws.

“The characters in the play are all a bit off in one way or another, you know no one is what you would classify as normal, whatever that means,” he said. “And I think that’s one of [Durang’s] messages, that we’re all a little off.”

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” runs Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Marian Gallaway Theater. Tickets at $14 for students, $17 for faculty, staff and seniors and $20 for other adults.

Sources:

Jeffery Tangeman: jptangeman@ua.edu

Taylor Schaffer: tvschafer@crimson.ua.edu

Sarah Jean Peters: sjpeters1@crimson.ua.edu

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