Elizabeth Aspenlieder couldn’t wait to get to rehearsals each day.
“To see this play unfold and step into it as an actor has been a blast,” said Aspenlieder, who plays Masha, the narcissistic movie star sister in Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning play, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” which opened Wednesday night at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass., and runs through Sept. 14.
“It’s filled with hilarity, angst and so many unexpected heart-wrenching moments. Durang hasn’t left a stone unturned when it comes to comedy and the human condition and our need for connection; our need to feel counted and loved.”
The play earned six Tony Award nominations in 2013, winning one for Best Play. The story is set in a Pennsylvania farmhouse where Vanya and his adopted sister, Sonia, are peacefully plodding through their lives before Masha shows up with a much younger boyfriend, named Spike, and turns their world upside down.
Tod Randolph plays Sonia, Jim Frangione is Vanya and Mat Leonard is Spike. Angel Moore and Olivia Saccomanno round out the cast, and the director is Matthew Penn.
‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’
WHERE: Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble Road, Lenox, Mass.
WHEN: Through Sept. 14; performance times vary
HOW MUCH: $60-$10
MORE INFO: (413) 637-3353, www.shakespeare.org
The winner of three OBIE awards and a Pulitzer for “Miss Witherspoon” in 2006, Durang had his first success on Broadway 35 years before lasts year’s Tony Award. Just out of Yale, he earned a 1978 Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical for “A History of the American Film.”
“I think out of all Christopher’s plays, ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ has the most resonance for me personally as an actor,” said Aspenlieder.
“The themes of family — sibling rivalries, shared memories, love, jealousy, joy, pain, growing older, evaluating successes and failures and what is next to come — have been and still are part of my life.”
Penn, who followed his father Arthur into the directing profession, said Durang’s knack of injecting comedy and drama into the same scene makes him a highly sought-after playwright.
“I think the play’s popularity is a credit to both Durang’s wonderful ability to make theatrical moments simultaneously funny and touching,” he said.
“It’s also about the theme of families, specifically about relationships with those we are supposed to be, and hopefully are, closest to in the world. It’s also about the issues of hope and despair and connection and disconnection both inside a family and as a culture.”
Parts of the play remind audiences of the work of great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, including the characters’ names and the story’s setting, a cherry orchard.
“They are all characters who are struggling to make basic human contact, both with each other and others,” said Penn. “Durang gives us an affectionate satire of and homage to the works of Chekhov where hope and despair exist on the same plane.”
Aspenlieder, who has been a regular performer at Shakespeare & Company for more than 10 years, said Durang’s work is a perfect choice for the troupe’s summer season.
“The play is about connection, lost and found, about families and language and communication,” she said.
“All of these themes fit perfectly with our mission at Shakespeare & Company, and we were thrilled when we attained the rights to produce it. I think almost everyone who sees this play will find a connection to it. It reveals our foibles and how sometimes even our most tragic moments can also be some of the most funniest, revealing and most memorable experiences of our lives.”
“Durang gives us a night in the theater that will make us laugh, make us think and hopefully inspire us to reach out to those we love with all the heart we have,” said Penn, whose television directing credits include “NYPD Blue” and “Law & Order.”
“As one of the characters said, ‘If everyone took anti-depressants Chekhov 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.”
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha an Spike” ran for six months on Broadway last year, with David Hyde Pierce in the role of Vanya and Sigourney Weaver as Masha.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]