by Linda Lombardi, Literary Manager
All the discoveries made in the rehearsal room—the table work and investigation, the blocking and script work, the character and relationship development—it gets taken to a whole new level when the actors move onto stage and the set, lights, costumes and sound are added. Adding the technical elements is like going from black and white to color. Anything is possible and anything could happen. In the heightened world of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, director Aaron Posner and his design team turn the Fichandler Stage into a pastoral summer home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Daniel Conway (Set Designer) When I set out to design Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike I wanted to inject a little humor around the edges of what is basically a realistic sun room of a house in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Vanya and Sonia’s parents have named them after Chekhovian characters, so I gave their estate a name as well: “Melikhovo”, after Chekhov’s country home and put that name above the entrance gate to the yard. Vanya recalls his parents as college professors with a penchant for community theater. As a long time university professor this fact really amuses me and so I’ve added little theatrical touches, like moss on the roof, boxes of Playbills, a garden gnome carrying a lantern, slightly loud fabrics and furniture from the turn of the century. I wanted the house to look a little worse for wear, so the roof sags, the garden needs weeding, and the house needs paint. I thought it would be much more amusing if Masha and Vanya were fighting over a house that had seen better days.
Robert Perry (Lighting Designer) My inspiration for the lighting of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike stems directly from the comic mood of the overall piece. In order to understand the words in the play the lighting must be seamless and designed, yet essentially unnoticeable. Furthermore since the show is done in the round, I want to make sure that the actors are illuminated equally for each audience member so that everyone gets the same perspective into this comedic world. With the scenic design exposing both the interior and exterior of the country home, my goal is to balance the two. While most of the scenes take place in the interior of the home I must not ignore the exterior space as well, as that will help to set the location (Buck’s County, PA), the season (in this case, August) and time of day, which varies with each scene. To help with this, I will be projecting windows which are not structurally visible in the set, yet can show night and day very well.
James Sugg (Composer/Musical Supervisor) What you are hearing tonight is actually the second sound design for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Early in the pre-production process, Aaron and the design team responded strongly to a collection of music by Sergio Mendes and Esquivel that I played during one of our production meetings. We loved the light, playfulness of this lounge music, its gloss and embellishment seemed somehow aligned with the privileged world of these characters. It also winked at the overblown angst of the souls that lay just beneath their veneer. And then, after the first week of rehearsal, I got the call from Aaron... “We are taking this play and its inhabitants seriously!” In other words, poking fun at them right out of the gate was the exact opposite of what he wanted. We needed to honor their struggle. Luckily he had a good idea to go along with his bad news…big Russian orchestral or operatic music. In this new and improved second design, we would reveal the large emotions that were hidden or squashed beneath this same veneer. From there it came quickly and easily, letting the rhythm and contours of this masterful play be our guide and Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov fill our hearts. Note: this design was handed to a new collaborator, Palmer Hefferan, as the show went into tech. I trust she has filled in the gaps, focused the ideas and crafted the final product with great artistry. Time for my wife and me to have a baby, though. Gotta go!
Paloma Young (Costume Designer) I find Durang's take on self-centered and miserable Chekhovian anti-heroes so wonderfully charming and it’s been a fun ride really listening to the characters and their motivations and discovering how these people are choosing to dress themselves. Like the characters themselves, the clothes are a little over-dramatic. Most of these folks can come off as overbearing and exasperating but are secretly, at their core, very lovable, so the director and I strived to find unique details that took each look out of caricature and into the realm of the individual. And then of course, we had to design a whole set of high end costume party outfits—we really wanted to push these into a fantastic place so they could ultimately be a foil for this family's very real and human emotions.
(Photo: The set for VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE during rehearsals, designed by Daniel Conway, with lighting design by Robert Perry and directed by Aaron Posner. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.)