St. Mark’s Players makes comic comeback in ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’

It’s time for humor, time to laugh, and time to reconnect. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a modern take on Anton Chekhov’s themes. A dark-humor take, at that. Every character in the play is named after a Chekhov character. Sisters Vanya (Randall Kish), Sonia (Heather Cipu), and Masha have a reunion of sorts when Masha (Carole Preston) arrives for an unexpected visit. The home the sisters grew up in, in a small town in Pennsylvania, is where we first meet Vanya and Sonia. Successful and self-centered sister Masha then arrives with her younger, confident boyfriend, Spike (Caroline Adams). The play, which won a Tony for best play in 2013, is now being presented in DC by St. Mark’s Players.

Vanya (played by Randall Kish) and Cassandra (played by Jordan Coscia) celebrate the success of recent pranks played on other characters in the show, in ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.’ Photo by Mark Alan Andre.

This local community theater production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike has been in the works since March 2020. “I applied to be a director back then,” says first-time director Mary Patano, who picked out the play then as she wanted to try her hand at directing. “This is their first in-person show since the pandemic,” she tells DCTA of the St. Mark’s Players production. The original play by Christopher Durang appealed to her as it is an exploration of the extremes that can happen within tight family relationships. “All of the characters have this attitude of ‘woe is me.’ I see myself reflected in some of these characters,” says Patano. Although the issues in the play may at times seem heavy, the treatment is comedic all the way. “I wanted something with comedic elements,” Patano says about the play, “but it has taken a whole new meaning now since the pandemic.” Indeed, the added layers of meaning — of looking forward to the future while being still scared of the past — is something Patano relates to and offers as one of the many resonant elements of this production.

Spike (played by Caroline Adams) gazes longingly at a pond, about to go in for a dip in ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.’ Photo by Mark Alan Andre.

This production is a testament to the power of theater to bring community together. With a mostly volunteer cast and crew, Patano finds there have been many people who have stepped up throughout casting, rehearsals, and tech. “Our support systems are live and here,” she mentions “I am so grateful for everyone who has had a hand in making this production go on,” she continues.

Director Mary Patano

With the increased movement of people in the past couple of years, St. Mark’s Players continues to be a mainstay, and the cast is made up of about half newcomers and half people who were previously engaged with the company. The casting process itself turned out to be an opportunity to connect with different people. Patano mentions they were very intentional about being inclusive through casting. For instance, a woman plays Spike, who is originally scripted as a man. “Spike is a young stud who is very free and comfortable with his body,” Patano explains, “but Caroline was so confident when she came in to try for the play, we asked her to read as Spike and it was perfect.” This fresh take brings out the best of community theater; the ability to provide a welcoming experience where people can connect and share a true love for the performing arts.

The current production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a fine comeback for St. Mark’s Players. Their cautious approach to COVID-19 meant that opening day was delayed since a couple of the actors tested positive. “I was ready to go on stage,” says Patano, who had even been fitted for a costume and was in rehearsals as an understudy. However, all cast members are now in the production, which opened officially to the public on October 8 and will continue through October 22.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike plays through October 22, 2022, presented by St. Mark’s Players performing at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 301 A Street SE, Washington, DC. Tickets ($20, general admission; $18, students with ID) can be purchased online.

COVID Safety: COVID vaccination is required to attend performances of this show and masks must be worn by audience members when in the theater.

Vanya: Randall Kish
Sonia: Heather Cipu
Masha: Carole Preston
Spike: Caroline Adams
Nina: Allegra Hatem
Cassandra: Jordan Coscia