The Tony Award for Best Play was awarded on Sunday to “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” a comedy set in Bucks County, by a Bucks County playwright, which premiered last fall in Princeton, New Jersey.
In his acceptance speech, Christopher Durang thanked non-profit theaters everywhere. “You are so important to us.”
Durang was commissioned to write “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” by the McCarter Theater in Princeton and the Lincoln Center in New York.
The play is inspired by the plays of Anton Chekhov, whose moody, drawing-room dramas are standards of the theatrical canon. Durang, whose satirical comic style tends toward the absurd, transferred the 19th century Russian characters to Bucks County, Pa.
“Chekov is contemporary – any way you can bring him to the present time is valid,” said Emily Mann, the artistic director of the McCarter Theater and co-commissioner of the play. “Bucks County is the perfect place for Chekhov. All these country estates – bored and upset and depressed. It’s perfect Durang country and perfect Chekhov country.”
Mann and Durang have known each other since they were undergrads at Harvard University in 1970. “We were in the same playwriting seminar. I was a freshman and he was a senior,” said Mann. “We were both playwrights, and we fell in love with each other’s work.”
Since then, their careers have stayed close. As the artistic director of the McCarter Theater, Mann is committed to developing new work, so she commissioned Durang to write “Miss Witherspoon,” which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. Immediately after that play premiered in 2005, Mann commissioned Durang to write another one.
Seven years later, that second play “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” premiered at the McCarter, and Mann, again, immediately commissioned Durang for another.
“It takes him a while for the right inspiration to hit him,” said Mann. “We’re having lunch next week – we’ll yak away and something might spark.”
Mann says audiences do not need to be up on their Chekhov Clif Notes to get the play. It’s designed to work for Chekhov fans, and for those on a more pedestrian literary level. However, Mann has been nurturing her McCarter audiences in Chekhov, having produced the master’s work for years.
“Our audiences so adored this play, because they know Chris’ work – this is the second play here – and they had seen all the Chekovs,” said Mann. “Every single one. So they got all the references.”