BONUS - For Theatre Geeks (a quiz) - April Blog 2015
by Marcella Kearns
Cassandra, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Confessions of an English Major
In college, I was an English major. One of my favorite professors, Dr. Robert Butler, worked us hard on analysis. He urged us to pick apart not only paragraphs but syllables, to interpret thematic signs in imagery, to search for patterns in word repetition and sentence rhythms and character names. Every class session he’d whip up a complex stew of evidence for a theory he had about some aspect of a story on our desks and thereby (naturally) spin us up into a breathless frenzy of discovery: “Yeah, yeah, that’s what it means! Whoa, I didn’t see that!” He made us see the magic both in story and interpretation. It felt like a kind of augury, or cryptography at the very least. Some kind of ancient divining, that communion with and connection to text.
Of course, every single time he got us excited about an idea, he’d pull the rug out from under us: “It could be, couldn’t it?” he’d ask. “Or am I reading too much into this?”
I’m on English major overdrive right now, a state which I confess has its merits and its drawbacks, with Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Playwright Christopher Durang’s rich script has gotten to that part of my brain. In the rehearsal hall, I’m endlessly fascinated by the colors others discover through repetition of a scene. I’m tickled hearing the echoes of other plays, other stories, which Durang has by his own words thrown into a “blender” here. Most of all, I’m bowled over by allusion: Durang manages to make me think of the aftermath of the Trojan War, recent natural disasters in Pennsylvania, Alexander the Great, and “The Owl and the Pussy-cat” all in the space of six of my lines, for instance. The accumulation of disparate thoughts sometimes overwhelms, and in observing I can’t help but try to anchor myself in patterns, to order my own thoughts about what the characters are trying to communicate to one another (especially my own, who often communicates through a hodge-podge of poetry and pop culture references). Often I end up having to check myself, to take myself to task with Dr. Butler’s question: Am I reading too much into this? Ultimately, what they’re trying to communicate may be less important than that they’re trying to communicate, to connect to one another. These characters are very vulnerable, achingly human in their flaws, kindnesses, and longing. It’s a sweet ride.
P.S. Speaking of communication, one character is on social media. No, really. Check him out—Spike is on Twitter as @sp1kesohard. Instagram, too. He’s connected. (The “i” in “Spike” is written as a number “1.” Number one. That choice means so many things. Okay, signing off now before I get myself started again.)
For Theatre Geeks
In his own words, playwright Christopher Durang threw themes and characters from the plays of Anton Chekhov into a blender as a foundation for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. He didn’t stop there. He took it all the way back to ancient Greek dramatists. While it’s not at all necessary to have a familiarity with Chekhov or ancients like Aeschylus to enjoy this play, it does make an old English major gleeful to hunt down how often he makes reference. Here’s a pop quiz. Can you sift out what’s ancient Greek, what’s modern Russian, and what’s contemporary Durang from quotes below?
1. Well, in a chariot… Agamemnon am I, or what?
2. Where/is the end? Where shall the fury of fate/be stilled to sleep, be done with?
3. I am a sea gull.
4. That’s so, but we shan’t talk of plays or atoms.
5. I am in mourning for my life.
6. I am the same as I always was, grown worse very likely, since I’m getting lazy; I do nothing and only make a fuss like any old grumbler.
7. I hope the blue heron comes later.
8. Remember too/the storm and wrath of the whirlwind.
9. …we think you should go as Grumpy.
10. I realize that climate too is a little in my power, and that a thousand years from now if man should be happy, why then I’ll be a small part of that too.
11. My play is about scary change in the weather.
12. I am fifty-five, it’s too late to change now.
13. And it may be some bird—like a heron.
14. Or an owl.
15. Next time you won’t go killing Agamemnon, will you?
16. But for me already the most of my life has gone by without hope.
17. O sad-voiced ocean-bird, heard in the foam/Low by the rocky ledge/Singing a note unhappy hearts can hear
18. Portents of dismay/and calamity/yawn beneath the yonder cliff.
19. I am one such molecule. And I am lonely.
20. I am going in. I walk a cliff-edge in a sea of evil, and evil I will do.
1. Trigorin, Chekhov’s The Seagull
2. Chorus, Aeschylus’ The Libation Bearers
3. Nina, Chekhov’s The Seagull
4. Arkadina, Chekhov’s The Seagull
5. Masha, Chekhov’s The Seagull; Sonia, Durang
6. Vanya, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya
7. Sonia, Durang
8. Chorus, Aeschylus’ The Libation Bearers
9. Masha, Durang
10. Astroff, Uncle Vanya
11. Vanya, Durang
12. Dorn, The Seagull
13. Gayeff, The Cherry Orchard
14. Trofimoff, The Cherry Orchard
15. Cassandra, Durang
16. Electra, Sophocles’ Electra
17. First Maiden, Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris
18. Cassandra, Durang
19. Nina, Durang
20. Orestes, Euripides’ Electra