The Tony award-winning “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” has become one of the most-produced regional productions around. Staged earlier this year by Horizon Theatre, the local co-production now travels across town to Aurora Theatre. Written by out playwright Christopher Durang, it’s the story of a middle-aged gay brother and his sister, who live together, and how a visit by their Hollywood star sibling changes everything. We recently caught up with Bill Murphey, who is straight, to talk about the role of Vanya.
Georgia Voice: Tell us about the relationship between your character Vanya and his sister Sonia (played by Lala Cochran).
Murphey: Vanya has a sedentary life. He and Sonia are settled in their family home. I’ve never got the idea that he is complacent about it; that just seems to be his lot in life. He and his sister are there to look after each other and keep the house. Perhaps that is easier than getting out and dealing with things in the real world. It’s probably not a happy, satisfying existence, but it is what they have settled into.
Has he had romantic relationships along the way?
We talked about this during rehearsal, about his backstory. I figured that he has probably had some sort of relationships in the distant past. He has come home to look after his parents and ultimately stayed in the house after they died. I don’t think there has been much going on. Whatever experiences he has had are a distant memory.
How does Masha (played by Tess Malis Kincaid) change their family dynamic?
Vanya and Sonia are used to their days, which are always the same. They never leave the house. Masha comes in with her Hollywood glamour and her new boytoy and anytime she visits, it’s like any slightly dysfunctional family. Things get stirred up. She is exciting and glamorous and the one who pays our bills. So there is probably some nervousness. She wasn’t around to take care of the parents but she has provided us our lives. Bringing (boyfriend) Spike throws a new iron in the work. It stirs up some feelings within Vanya that are long dormant. Not that he is anticipating anything happening – just the fact that there’s a young man in the house with a proclivity for taking off his clothes.
How did you and Lala Cochran click as siblings?
I’ve known her for a long time but never worked with her. We went to lunch a few times; I went to her house and worked on lines. It’s a very comfortable relationship.
Were you familiar with the piece before doing it?
I saw it in New York when it was running there. Sigourney Weaver had already left the cast but David Hyde Pierce was still in it. I had heard so much about it. Inevitably when there is a huge build-up for something, you see it and you’re a little disappointed. Nothing can measure up. But still I enjoyed it and said that’s a role I would like to play if anyone ever does it in Atlanta. Lo and behold, they did it in Atlanta. Horizon Theatre called me in. I was up against some major contenders and I was really happy to get that phone call when they decided on me.