Hudson Reed Ensemble begins 10th year with ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’
If You Go …
What: “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” presented by Hudson Reed Ensemble
Where: Black Box Theatre, Aspen High School
When: Tonight, Saturday, March 21, Friday, March 27, Saturday, March 28, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 29, 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: Available at the door; in advance at hudsonreedensemble.org, 970-319-6867
The Hudson Reed Ensemble is beginning its tenth year of theater productions in Aspen with a first for the local company: comedy. More specifically, contemporary comedy.
The local group has done several Shakespearean comedies over the years during its Shakespeare in the Park productions, but has steered toward drama otherwise.
Tonight Hudson Reed begins a two-weekend run of the farcical “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” bringing the award-winning Broadway hit to the Black Box Theatre.
The play is loosely based – “veeery loosely,” emphasizes director Kent Reed – on the plays of Anton Chekhov. It takes themes and character names from Chekhov plays like “Uncle Vanya,” “The Seagull,” and “The Cherry Orchard,” and mines their gloomy mood for comedy, but doesn’t require any working knowledge of Chekhov from audiences.
Set in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is a farce about family and sibling rivalry. It’s plot revolves around siblings Vanya, Sonia, who live together, and Masha, a fading movie star who supports them and returns home with her lover, Spike, to sell the family house.
“They’re coming to grips, rather comedically, with their lives at a certain point in time,” said Reed. “And by the end they have new insight.”
The play, by Christopher Durang, got its start in 2012 in New Jersey before going Off-Broadway, with Sigourney Weaver as Masha, then going to Broadway, winning the Tony Award for Best Play, and then becoming one of the most-produced plays at regional theaters around the U.S.
Reed said he’s been an admirer of Durang since the 1980s, when he staged the playwright’s 1981 comedy “Beyond Therapy” here through Theatre Aspen.
He read “Vanya and Sonia” in manuscript form when it came out, and decided he wanted to bring it to Aspen for a Hudson Reed run.
“His sense of humor really appeals to me,” Reed said of Durang.
Reed’s cast is comprised of familiar faces of the Aspen stage: Nina Gabianelli, Tim Estin, Kathy Pelowski, Cathy Markle and Adam Solomon, along with relative newcomer Jamie Contractor. Pelowski’s relationship with Hudson Reed dates to the company’s debut production, “The Crucible,” in 2005.
“It’s a very strong cast,” said Reed. “Everybody we’ve got is funny and has a good sense of comedic timing. … I just let these actors do what they do best.”
Reed said he hasn’t had to do much directing to get these naturally funny actors to hit comic beats and earn laughs, he said. That’s allowed the cast to focus on developing characters.
“One of the things that’s important to me is that you relate to these people as human beings, so you walk the line between pushing things too far for comedic affect, and keeping them as humans on stage,” Reed explained.
The company is opening its 10th anniversary season quietly with this production, but Reed said to expect a birthday celebration this summer. With Galena Plaza under construction, Reed’s Shakespeare in the Park show is in search of a new home to host such an event.
“Whether it’ll be another city park or inside somewhere, after this show we are going to nail it down,” he said.
A decade ago, Reed, who had founded Theatre Aspen in 1983, sought to cement a resident theater company in Aspen for local working actors. Looking back, he said, he’s satisfied with the work Hudson Reed Ensemble has done so far, with 30-plus productions ranging from the Shakespeare to vaudeville shows at the Wheeler to “The Aspen Soap,” to recent radio play performances.
“Our company brings something to the community,” Reed said. “It’s part of the mosaic of performing arts in this valley.”
The biggest challenge for the nonprofit, moving forward, Reed said, is finding space to rehearse and to stage shows – a need highlighted in the recent Aspen City Council debate over future use of the riverside building that formerly housed the Aspen Art Museum. Hudson Reed has traditionally rehearsed in the Rio Grande Room – and staged plays like “Barrymore” and “Betrayal” there – but will lose it as a venue when the city converts it into office space next month.
Reed said the small company can’t afford venues like the Wheeler Opera House and Aspen District Theatre, and often finds itself short of dates at the Black Box. It held a winter production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Aspen Community Church and, Reed said, may have to continue being creative with alternative venues as Hudson Reed begins its second decade.
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