Local theaters usher in 2018 with Durang’s Vanya and Kron’s Well.
By Don Maines
Two Houston theaters are ringing in the New Year with shows from LGBTQ playwrights.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the popular Tony Award-winning comedy by Christopher Durang, comes to Pasadena Little Theatre January 26 through February 11. And Well, an inventive memory play by Lisa Kron—who won a Tony Award for penning the book and lyrics to Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical Fun Home—comes to Studio 101 from January 18 through February 3.
The biggest hit of Durang’s long career, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, was performed at the Alley Theatre in 2014, and at several Houston-area community theaters since then. Revis Bell, an openly gay native Houstonian, saw the show at Theatre Southwest, where his friend and fellow gay thespian Jay Menchaca directed a much-lauded production in 2015. “I thought, ‘Oh, this will be great for us,’” Bell says. “The lead role of Vanya was played by (out actor) David Hyde Pierce on Broadway. You don’t find many lead characters who are gay—especially older gay characters. They always play the side roles, like Jack on Will and Grace.”
Bell snapped up the rights to Vanya for the 63rd season of Pasadena Little Theatre, Houston’s oldest community theater in continuous operation. “It promises to be very entertaining,” he says.
Vanya is a 50-something gay bachelor who lives a snug but uneventful life with his adopted spinster sister, Sonia, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. However, their imperious movie-star sister, Masha, sweeps in and threatens to upset their quaint little apple cart by selling the family homestead.
“She is accompanied by her 20-something boy toy,” Menchaca recalls. “I cast an actor who is incredibly beautiful and even-more-so well-hung. I put him in barely nothing, and let’s just say you could see his religion.”
At Pasadena Little Theatre, Bell has entrusted the role of Spike to handsome Edward Waddell, who played all eight male characters in that theater’s fall production of the Eric Overmeyer play On the Verge; or, The Geography of Yearning.
Houston actor Steve Walker will play Vanya. “He is mild-mannered, even with his dry sense of humor,” Bell says. “However, at the very end he blows up with one of the most beautiful monologues ever.”
Kron’s play Well is being presented by Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company, which is dedicated to promoting women in theater, according to artistic director Jennifer Decker. “The production steps into the mind of Tony Award-winning playwright Lisa Kron with a thoughtful and funny examination of how our relationships with our community, family, and friends are reflected in our health,” Decker says.
Director Bree Bridger admits it’s “not a well-made play.” “Like life, it loses its place, comes together only to fall apart again, and has a broad scope,” Bridger says. “As the carefully crafted narrative unravels, we find what it takes to get a group of different people in any setting to improve their mutual well-being.”
Kron played herself in the 2004 off-Broadway production of Well, and again in 2006 on Broadway, where she was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play.
Mildred’s Umbrella plans to transform Studio 101 at Spring Street Studios, in the heart of the Washington Avenue Arts District, into the lovely home where Kron grew up in Lansing, Michigan.
Noting the difficulty of describing the play and its subject matter, Bridger says, “Finding wellness in our lives and our community is more complicated than a self-help book, an online op-ed, or an inspirational hashtag can cover.”
Kron, who won a 2000 GLAAD Media Award for her autobiographical play 2.5 Minute Ride, is married to playwright Madeleine George, whose play The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the same year that Fun Home was nominated. The winner was The Flick by Annie Baker.
For more details on the two productions, visit pasadenalittletheatre.org or mildredsumbrella.com.
Don Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.