Clockwise from left, Teresa DeBerry, Catherine Bromberg, Connor Tuohy, Andrea Schiavoni and Anna Francesca Schiavoni during 2022 rehearsals of Christopher Durang’s play “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” DANA SHAW
A May 2022 performance of Christopher Durang's play "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" at LTV Studios. COURTESY ANDREA SCHIAVONI
Last May, a group of East End residents joined forces to present “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” Christopher Durang’s 2013 Tony Award-winning Chekhovian mash-up, over the course of a weekend at LTV Studios in Wainscott.
Now, these same actors are reprising “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” this time on the Bay Street Theater stage. The play will be presented March 16 to 19 with Bay Street’s director of education, Allen O’Reilly, directing, just as he did last May.
This cast is somewhat unusual, given that, by day, several of the performers are not professional actors at all (there is a teacher, lawyer and judge among their ranks). But they each share a passion for theater and as a team, decided to present the Durang play after several of them took “Everybody Can Act,” a class offered by O’Reilly at Bay Street Theater. They are: North Haven resident Andrea Schiavoni (a Suffolk County Family Court judge); her daughter Anna Francesca Schiavoni (a college student majoring in theater); John Leonard (a local lawyer); Catherine Bromberg (a teacher and Schiavoni’s sister-in-law); Teresa DeBerry (an actor, director and choreographer and the wife of Allen O’Reilly); and New York City-based actor Connor Tuohy.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” which is set in modern-day Bucks County, Pennsylvania, has elements of Anton Chekhov’s most well-known 19th century plays — “The Cherry Orchard,” “The Seagull,” “Three Sisters” and “Uncle Vanya.” Durang’s play explores the intensely dysfunctional relationship of three middle-aged siblings who have been named by their late theater-loving parents after characters from Chekhov’s plays — Vanya (played by Leonard), Sonia (played by DeBerry) and Masha (played by Andrea Schiavoni). Neither Vanya (who is gay) nor Sonia (who is adopted) have jobs, but rather tend the property left to them by their parents. When globe-trotting Masha, a movie star who financially supports the household, shows up with Spike (Tuohy), a new boy-toy 40 years her junior, tensions heat up. Insert into the action Cassandra (Bromberg), a soothsaying housekeeper, and Nina (Anna Francesca Schiavoni), the neighbor’s pretty niece and an aspiring actress, and there’s no telling what might happen.
Joining the “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” venture this time around as an off-stage presence is the show’s producer, Robin Aren, a recent arrival to the East End theater scene who met the cast while taking an improv class at Bay Street Theater.
“I was expressing an interest in being more involved in the theater on the production side,” she recalled. “Andrea and Allen heard it, Catherine Bromberg was also in the class and the stars aligned for this happening.”
It was something akin to divine intervention for Aren, a Chicago native who previously lived in New York City for five years and moved to Hampton Bays slightly less than a year ago. It has also encouraged Aren, a 2015 graduate of the Boston Conservatory at Berklee who is trained as a dancer and choreographer, to start her own business venture. With this show, she is ready to dive into the deep end of producing.
“We have this ready to go. The pieces were in place and ready to burst into life again,” said Aren. “They needed me to step in as producer and it also forced me to start my production company. Before this, I had choreographed, directed and produced, but this is under an official company. I now have a channel.”
That channel is Robin Aren Productions and she hopes that “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is just the first of many shows she oversees as a producer, both on the East End and elsewhere.
“My biggest goal was involving the community in this production and encouraging people they were a part of the show,” said Aren. “I would love to continue working with this cast, whether on a new show or in collaboration with other theaters here, or other productions I’m doing in the city.
“The education I have gives me knowledge in each space, including musical theater and problem solving and being on both sides of the table,” said Aren. “I still intend to jump into the performance space, but I can also produce now. It’s another way to bring it to life. I’m learning a lot of new skills.”
Though New York City is arguably the center of the theater and dance world in the U.S., Aren is happy to find herself here on the East End where she’s carving out a new creative career.
“It seems being out here, things are starting to flow more,” said Aren. “It feels grounded and professional. In the city, there’s so much running round and doing things that are so good for young people to go through, but I’m finding more connections are made out here.
“This environment is relaxed and it’s easier to make connections,” she adds. “I’m finding people are so supportive and wanting to help champion creative energy and people doing good work here.”
Speaking of work, Aren readily admits that “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is not a play that she knew well prior to taking on the job of producing it, but she has since come to appreciate both its biting humor and heartfelt truths.
“I was only familiar with the name of the play,” said Aren. “It was blind faith, I said, ‘I’m going to take it on.’ I liked Allen, Andrea and Catherine. It was such a great opportunity to learn and try, no matter what would happen.
“The first time I heard it was at our table read at Andrea’s house. I purposely didn’t do a lot of research ahead of time,” she added. “The cast is so dynamic together, I’m so moved to tears and outbursts of laughter.
“It’s a special show and very meaty too. It really shows depth.”
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” opens at Bay Street Theater on Thursday, March 16, at 7 p.m., with additional performances on Friday and Saturday, March 17 and 18, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, March 19, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $35 at baystreet.org or 631-725-9500. Bay Street Theater is on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor.
One fine body…