CHRISTOPHER DURANG, WINNER OF THE 2013 “BEST PLAY” TONY AWARD FOR THE BROADWAY HIT VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE
18th Annual BURIAN LECTURE
March 10, 2014
Durang received the 2013 Tony Award, New York Drama Critics’s Circle Award, and Outer Critics Circle Award for “Best Play” for his highly acclaimed and hilarious Broadway hit, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, starring Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce. Borrowing characters and material from Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, the play tells the story of a brother and sister who have never had to grow up, and who live off the money of their world-travelling movie star sister in a family farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
In a Variety review, Marilyn Stasio (of the New York Times) said, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is brainy and witty and clever and cute. Christopher Durang’s surreal comedy of manners answers that perennial prayer for shows with higher aspirations than to pass themselves off as sitcoms. In a great leap of imagination, Durang lifts characters and storylines from four Chekhov plays (plus a tragedy by Aeschylus) and transplants them from provincial Russia to present-day Bucks County. In this hilarious mash-up, classic themes of existential loss and longing are given a modern spin and endlessly inventive comic twists for an inspired cast….” Writing in the New York Times, Ben Brantley said, “Even if you’ve never read a word of Chekhov, you’re likely to find plenty to make you laugh…. Durang plays with Chekhov like a self-amusing cat toying with a tangled string.”
Durang’s work for the stage has been celebrated by audiences and critics for more than three decades. Reviewing his 1981 play Beyond Therapy in the New Yorker, the late Edith Oliver said that Durang “has the wit, the high, rebellious spirits, and the rage of the born satirist. He is also one of the funniest and most original playwrights at work.”
Durang’s 2009 play, Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them, tells the story of a young woman who suspects that her new husband is a terrorist. Notoriously tough critic John Simon, writing for Bloomberg News, said, “You may laugh yourself silly! This carnival of lunacy swept me into its joyous whirligig.”
Durang’s 2005 play, Miss Witherspoon, the tale of a dead woman sent back to earth to “cleanse her brown, tweedy aura” after she commits suicide, was a finalist for the Pulitzer in Drama. In a TIME magazine review, Richard Corliss said, “If there’s a circle of Hell — or Heaven — for comic misanthropes, Durang would reign (or serve) there.”
Durang is also a three-time winner of the Obie Award for playwriting for Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You (1980), The Marriage of Bette and Boo (1985), and Betty’s Summer Vacation (1999). In 2012, Durang received the PEN/Laura Pels Award for a “master dramatist in mid-career.”
Durang’s visit is funded by Jarka and Grayce Susan Burian Endowment. The late Jarka Burian taught in the Theatre Department at UAlbany from 1955 to 1993. He was the leading American scholar of Czech theatre and author of the award-winning book The Scenography of Josef Svoboda, a seminal critical study of the work of one of the twentieth century’s most influential theatrical designers. Grayce Susan Burian, who received her M.A. degree from UAlbany and also taught there, is best known for her long tenure as the director of the theatre program, which she founded, at Schenectady Community College.