Christopher Durang is having a moment. Again. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that regional theaters across the country — including Vermont's Lost Nation Theater, Vermont Stage Company and the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company — are having a Christopher Durang moment.
Those three Vermont companies chose to stage shows by the Pennsylvania-based playwright this season. "It really is interesting that, completely independently of one another, we all have Durang fever," says Kathleen Keenan, codirector of Lost Nation. The Montpelier company will perform Durang Bang, a show of six shorts culled from the playwright's older works, from June 12 through 29.
"It's a great way for us to start the summer," Keenan says, "and start it off with a bang, because the show just explodes with laughter. It's very zany humor. Durang is very much influenced by the screwball comedies of the 1930s or 'I Love Lucy,' so it's got that fun, wild energy to it."
Durang, 65, who codirects the Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program at the Juilliard School, took home the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. The riff on Chekhov dramas is set in a cherry orchard in modern-day Bucks County, Penn., with some story elements, including characters' names, lifted from Three Sisters. (Durang's satirical comedies frequently poke fun at the classics; his past works have taken aim at plays by Euripides and Tennessee Williams, among others.) The critical and commercial success of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike led to a resurgence in Durang's popularity — the playwright's 40-year career already included multiple Broadway hits and a Pulitzer nomination.
"That play is just one of those hot-ticket shows right now," says Vermont Stage Company producing artistic director Cristina Alicea, who guesses Vanya will be one of the three most produced shows nationally this season. "Regional theaters around the country are really having success with that show, because anyone who loves classic writing, who loves Chekhov or who loves comedy, will want to see that play. There's something in it for everyone," she adds. "It runs the gamut of audiences that you can bring in."
Alicea will direct a production of Vanya in October. In the meantime, she chose a Durang play from the early '80s, Beyond Therapy, for VSC's annual Bake Off event, which runs June 10 to 15. That play, one of Durang's best loved, is about two troubled Manhattanites whose therapists advise them to place personals ads.
Bake Off, now in its third year, is a full-length production divided in thirds: A different cast and director work on each section of the play, so audiences are treated to three interpretations of the same work all in one show.
Those who can't wait until October to see Durang's Tony winner are in luck — the Weston Playhouse's production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs July 17 through 26.
"When I saw it in New York, I fell in love with it," says Steve Stettler, a producing director at Weston, who will direct the show this summer. "Christopher Durang is one of the great contemporary comic playwrights of American theater. What I like about this play is that he's reached a point in his life and in his career where the social satire that's always present in his work has been kind of beautifully tempered by life experience."
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike was purportedly inspired by Durang's own midlife musings about his career, and the frustrations of some of his artistic friends who were at a similar stage of life. "It felt Chekhovian to him," Stettler notes.
Asked about the rise in Durang's popularity, which hit an earlier zenith in the 1980s, Stettler suggests that the Tony Award may have simply given "a playwright of enduring strength and resilience" an inroad into "the larger consciousness."
"I think Durang has always looked with a wry intelligence at human failures and the failures of a society, and we're living at a time in which a) we could use humor, and b) we're all aware that we could do better," says Stettler. "There's a lot of reasons he's very resonant at the moment."