Much like the middle-aged siblings the three actors portray in Asolo Repertory Theatre’s upcoming performance, these actors just so happen to come from large families.
Andrew Sellon (playing Vanya) is the youngest of four; Peggy Roeder (playing Sonia) has three brothers and three sisters; and Anne-Marie Cusson (playing Masha) is one of five siblings.
They can relate to both the competitive and loving relationships presented in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” the play by comedic absurdist playwright Christopher Durang, who won his first Tony award for the clever comedy.
The quick synopsis: Unemployed, middle-aged siblings Vanya and Sonia live in their deceased parents’ home where they grew up in Bucks County, Penn. The dependent duo’s only source of income is from their movie-star sister, Masha, who returns home with her younger, self-absorbed, good-looking, half-naked boyfriend, Spike (played by Jefferson McDonald). Sonia is adopted. Vanya is gay and also the peacemaker between his sisters. Masha is the caretaker who owns the family home. Also thrown into the mix is the pretty young neighbor’s niece and the cleaning lady/prophet, Cassandra. Talk about a rich breeding ground for drama.
All three of the actors can relate. They discuss their own family histories between rehearsals in the lobby of FSU Center for the Performing Arts.
“Every day is a rivalry,” Cusson says of being in a family with lots of children.
The trio laughs and reminisces about how they are all guilty of building alliances among siblings, and how quick and easy it is to change sides. They talk about how two siblings might ban together and take their grievances of another sibling to the judge — mom. They share stories. Roeder once tried to cheat her sister out of an allowance because Roeder did all the cleaning and felt entitled to both allowances. Sellon talks about how he always fought the most with the sister with whom he’s closest in age.
But, more relevant to the plot of the play is how these sibling relationships change into adulthood.
The idea that these are three middle-aged orphans particularly resonates with Sellon, who thinks relationships among siblings change when the people at the top of the family tree are no longer there to hold them together. Discovering these new relationships is something he’s dealt with personally.
But, all three actors agree that even adults without siblings will find their own connection to the play because of the common themes. The play is about connections not just among siblings, but also relationships across generations. There are themes of communication and technology’s effect on how people connect or fail to connect; of aging and aging relationships; of finding purpose; of facing fears.
Sellon’s synopsis is poignant.
“This play is about human connections and how hard they can be sometimes,” he says.
Inside the actors' studio:
Where is home originally, and where are you based?
Anne-Marie Cusson: Originally New Hampshire. Currently based in New York.
Peggy Roeder: Originally from and currently based in Chicago.
Andrew Sellon: Originally from Belmont, Mass. Currently based in Yonkers, N.Y.
What are your interests and hobbies outside of acting?
Cusson: “I love dipping into whatever New York City has to offer. I walk. I love to read. I love to wander around and look at architecture … ”
Roeder: “I play 16-inch softball and Frisbee. I love to read, do yoga and quilt.”
Sellon: “I’m very much into photography and gardening. I love taking photographs of plants, and I also like Celtic music.”
What is the strangest thing on your résumé?
Cusson: “I actually used to have wild-turkey call on my resume … Years later at an outdoor wedding beyond the fence there was a pack of turkeys. I made the sound, and they all came running toward me. It was very dramatic.”
Roeder: “I’ve taken pole-dancing classes. I can pole dance.”
Sellon: “I’ve flown in a single-point harness — the same thing Peter Pan uses … I can fly.”
What is a lesser-known fact about yourself?
Cusson: “I can be shy.”
Roeder: “I wanted to be a nun in grade school.”
Sellon: “When I was a freshman in high school, I was cast as a bully in a skinny-dipping scene with a young actress named Brooke Shields, who was about 8 years old at the time. The film was never made, but that would have been my movie debut.”
Leaving little to the imagination
Jefferson McDonald, who plays Spike, was featured in a New York Times article Jan. 9, “Vanya and Sonia and Abs and Pecs.” The writer talks to the actors who play Spike around the country, particularly focusing on the shirtless nature of the role.
So, how are McDonald’s abs?
“I guess they look great,” says Peggy Roeder, who sees McDonald as more of a son after spending three seasons acting with him.
Andrew Sellon is sure they are great. As does Anne-Marie Cusson, who says: “If you’re going to ask me about his abs, you’re going to have to ask me about the top to toe of our Spike — they’re great!,” she says with a laugh. “It’s a pleasure to be in his proximity.”
IF YOU GO
‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’
When: Opens 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24. Runs through April 13.
Where: Asolo Repertory Theatre, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail
Cost: Tickets are $21 to $76
Info: Call 351-8000 or visit asolorep.org
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