Monday, August 29, 2016

Taking a Trip to LOVELY SUNDAY's Real Creve Coeur Lake

by Logan Peaslee, MCT marketing and development assistant

Although mentioned frequently throughout Tennessee Williams' A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR and even used as the title, Creve Coeur is never actually seen by audience members; the play's action takes place entirely in the home of its protagonist Dorothea. But the destination’s history, current status, and name itself are too interesting to leave offstage.

Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Creve Coeur Lake, which is the largest natural lake in Missouri (320 acres!), has a history of hosting boating events. In the 1880s, the lake hosted the Mississippi Valley Regatta and the Creve Coeur Regatta. Perhaps most interestingly, the rowing competition for the 1904 Summer Olympics was held at Creve Coeur Lake, with the United States earning five gold medals for rowing that year. By the 1930s, when Williams' play takes place, the lake had become a popular picnic spot for residents of St. Louis. In A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR, several of the characters are preparing for one such picnic.

Creve Coeur’s interesting history did not end with the 1904 Summer Olympics. As recently as June of 2015, the park found itself in the news. A rising in the Missouri River pushed Creve Coeur Lake out of its banks and flooded the entire park. With the picnic areas, trails, and parking lots completely under water, there was likely little prospect of a lovely Sunday at Creve Coeur. Fortunately, the park's facilities had been designed to withstand flooding after a similarly large flood two decades prior (the Great Flood of 1993) destroyed the park’s amenities, and the park has since recovered

The name of the lake and park is French, and it means “broken heart” or "heartbreak." Legend has it that a Native American princess fell in love with a French fur trapper when the area was being settled. When her love was not returned, she jumped from a ledge overlooking the lake. From then on, the French settlers referred to the lake as broken heart lake, Creve Coeur Lake. 

Boating is a part of Creve Coeur Lake's history
as well as its present. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Since A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR explores the concept of heartbreak, it is fitting that Tennessee Williams included this particular lake in his play. The meaning of “creve coeur” also raises an evocative question: why a location never even visited in the play is worthy of the title.

In 1945, Creve Coeur Lake and the area surrounding it became a county park. Visiting the park today, you can return to the lake’s boating roots and sail, as well as canoe, kayak, and paddleboard. The park has Missouri’s first and only treetop adventure course. At fifty feet in the air, the course offers zip lines, swings, and an obstacle course. For those who prefer dry land and who are afraid of heights, Creve Coeur Park has gorgeous hiking and biking trails. Aside from the many exciting activities mentioned, the park remains a popular picnic spot. So if you’re ever in the St. Louis area and want to have a LOVELY SUNDAY afternoon, head to Creve Coeur Park!


Barr, Diana. “Missouri Declares State of Emergency Amid Flooding.” St. Louis Business Journal. St. Louis Business Journal, 19 June 2015. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

“Contests at the Oars.” Archives. The New York Times, n.d. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

“Creve Coeur.” St. Louis County. St. Louis County Government, n.d. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

“Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park.” St. Louis Audubon Society. Wild Bird Center of South County, n.d. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Dalton, Gloria. “History.” The Heart of Community and Commerce. City of Creve Coeur, n.d. Web. 24 Aug. 2016

“History of Creve Coeur.” St. Louis County. St. Louis County Government, n.d. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

“Sporting Affairs.” Archives. Chicago Tribune, n.d. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Sullivan, James. Spalding’s Official Athletic Almanac for 1905. New York, NY: The American Publishing Company, 1905. 

Monday, August 22, 2016


compiled by Matthew Reddin

Still haven't made it to our summer show, VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE? Good thing there's still one week of shows left for the hilarious comedy at the Cabot Theatre!

Tickets are still available at the MCT box office, but if you need a push, here's what several of Milwaukee's theatre critics had to say about the production:

Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Chamber's 'Vanya and Sonia' whips human loneliness into a frappe"
"Takeaways: 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike'"

"As is also true here of (C.Michael) Wright and (Jenny) Wanasek, (Carrie) Hitchcock rescues her character from all-out caricature, overcoming the script’s weaker moments to channel the combination of insecurity and longing afflicting characters true to both Chekhov and 21st-century life, in which we feel more alone than ever, despite all the ways we’re ostensibly connected."

"(In) the best moment in the play, as we watch Sonia take a phone call from a man she met at a party ... Wanasek suggests a woman desperate to claw free of the protection in which she’s long swaddled herself, even as she clings to it like a security blanket."

"Wright is poignant in conveying the underlying angst of an aging man, longing for a vanished sense of community and shared experience in a world where those connections we make frequently sacrifice depth for breadth."

Dave Begel, OnMilwaukee
"Misery with laughs on the menu as Chamber Theatre opens season"

"Under the feathery touch of director Marcella Kearns, this Christopher Durang play takes isolation, desolation and disappointment, and stands them on their ear, filling the Cabot Theatre with chuckles, laughters and outright roars of fun."

"(Kearns) has a clear understanding that these roles are big roles, needing big performances. Even as shy and reticent as Vanya is, it still takes an actor with Wright's skills to make it seem as funny as it can be without overdoing it.

Peggy Sue Dunigan, Broadway World
MCT channels a crazy Chekhov in Durang's 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike'

"Associate Artistic Director Marcella Kearns directs the production succinctly and with comic success. By adding her own intuition about timing into the play. Kearns often opens up opportunities for more humor to happen on stage."

"MCT's hilarious Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike awakens the possibilities in the audience, wherever and whenever they are in life as well."

Anne Seigel, TotalTheatre
Review: 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike'

"Well-known Milwaukee actress Carrie Hitchcock is more than up to the challenge of playing Masha. Her every gesture and syllable reeks with the dramatic flair so important to this character."

"Although the play ends on a note that seems to restore family relationships (at least for a while), Durang doesn’t pretend that everyone will get what they want out of life. Real life often fails to end that way, and this reality is more satisfying than a sugar-coated finale."

Russ Bickerstaff, Shepherd Express
Vanya and Sonia meet Masha and Spike

"The script whimsically plays heavy family drama like a light sitcom—it’s Anton Chekhov by way of Neil Simon."

Monday, August 8, 2016

Nostalgia: Both Curse and Comfort

by Marcella Kearns

Ray Bradbury (top), John
Hodgman (center) and
Vanya (C. Michael Wright, bottom)
each have their own
takes on the benefits and
disadvantages of nostalgia.
“I learned to let my senses and my Past tell me all that was somehow true.” In an introduction to semi-autobiographical novel DANDELION WINE, Ray Bradbury rhapsodizes about the creative soil of memory. His fictionalized portrait of Waukegan, Illinois in the 1920s centers on young boys encountering firsthand the delights of capturing a summer’s spirit in their grandfather’s wine and a summer’s events in their reflection and writing. Even the darkest moments—and there are dark moments—remind his characters to capture and fully embrace the richness of simply living and the sweetness of remembering the past.

In VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, playwright Christopher Durang too dips into nostalgia. Siblings Vanya and Sonia look back on the past and find comfort, along, perhaps, with a trace of wistfulness or longing for what once was. That past wasn’t perfect, but its recollection has the effect of soothing them in need. Though their sister Masha declares “I can’t remember dates or decades. I just live!”, listen for what follows—even she finds herself recalling what was and what might have been.

No harm, right?

Exactly, according to Southampton professors Constantine Sedikides and Tim Wildschut, who have revolutionized thinking about this potent force and experience.

Nostalgia has been typically characterized as a useless or potentially dangerous impulse, a sense of “living in the past” without regard for present needs. Certainly, for all humans who perceive our lives unfolding along a linear timeline, idealizing the past without taking into consideration the changing circumstances of the present in order to build a healthy collective future is irrational. Writer and comedian John Hodgman often and eloquently warns of this very risky aspect of nostalgia. In an interview with Josh Jackson, he says,

Everyone who enjoyed a stable and relatively happy childhood will look back on their childhood and think that it’s the best. That’s the parlor trick of nostalgia, and it’s why nostalgia is the worst. It is a toxic impulse that leads to nothing good, honestly. The idea that things were better once and are terrible now and getting worse every minute is what fuels the worst, in my opinion, movements in contemporary culture…

Sedikides and Wildschut’s study over the course of the last decade asks us to re-frame our thinking, however. They attest that instead of vilifying nostalgia, we can and should actively employ its effects to counteract depression, anxiety, or pain. As they’ve discovered so far, nostalgia is a universal human experience and powerful for healing across cultures. This kind of thinking about the past, Sedikides explains, “is always related to intimacy maintenance: I want to remind myself of the people who are no longer here and what they meant for me. It serves to remind you of what intimacy you have achieved and therefore what you are most capable of… Nostalgia stands out as adaptive.” Indeed, historical-based research and current studies indicate that the mind, through nostalgia, actually temporarily alters the body’s perception of the condition of a room.

With this framework in hand, they have been developing nostalgia-based therapies for depression and are even beginning to explore the potential for its active use in easing the effects of Alzheimer’s. The key seems to be mindfulness of nostalgia as a tool—a calming agent, fuel for resilience in difficult periods. By connecting to the past and what we loved, we flood ourselves with warmth. Ever hear a song that “takes you back”? Smell a smell that recalls holiday meals, a loved one’s perfume, a campfire? Memory, along with that sweet tinge of longing for what’s past, buoys us.

The conclusion may seem simple, but its application is tricky. Sedikides speaks of nostalgia as the “perfect internal politician, connecting the past with the present, pointing optimistically to the future.” The trick is not to try to re-create any perceived notion of the past, but to draw on that, in Sedikides’ words, “inexhaustible bank account” to move forward. Durang’s characters certainly find an anchor in memory, but their nostalgia also serves as a platform from which to speak. Nostalgia, that anchor in the past, becomes a general reminder that warmth, love, and true connection with others in the present is possible.


Adams, Tim. “Look Back in Joy: The Power of Nostalgia.” The Guardian. The Guardian, 9 Nov. 2014. Web. 1 Aug. 2016.

Jackson, Josh. “The Real John Hodgman: We’re Not Making This Up!” Paste. Paste Magazine, 17 Nov. 2012. Web. 1 Aug. 2016.

Ward, Baldwin H., ed. Nostalgia: Our Heritage in Pictures and Words. Petaluma, CA: News Front/Year, Inc., 1975.

To continue the conversation on the topic: Charles (Chuck) Bryant and Josh Clark of STUFF YOU SHOULD KNOW fame explore nostalgia (and John Hodgman’s perspective!) in an episode of their podcast. Check it out at

Thursday, August 4, 2016

So who are Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike anyway?

by Matthew Reddin, MCT marketing director

We're only a week away from opening night for VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, but there's one question left to answer: Who are these people?

Answering that honestly? There be spoilers. But we can hint at more than enough about the six characters who'll appear on the Cabot Theatre stage using the words of the best authority on the subject: Christopher Durang, the playwright who wrote the play in the first place.

In his Author's Note in the published script of VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, Durang writes that the names of his first three titular characters are lifted from Chekhov, with a "very modern" name to jar the listener into laughter. But he also adds that "the play is not based on Chekhov, nor is it a parody of Chekhov. ... It's as if I took characters and themes from Chekhov and put them in a blender."

In a sense, then, these abridged character descriptions, all in Durang's words, could be likened to a tasty sextet of summer smoothies. Drink up -- we'll see you at the theater.

VANYA (C. Michael Wright)

He has mostly lived in the house he grew up in. I feel that he went to college but then came home expecting to stay only a while. But he stayed the rest of his life, partly to take care of his parents as they suffered a long period of illness and then died.

SONIA (Jenny Wanasek) 

She was adopted. She was 8 when she joined the family. Vanya was probably 10 or 11, Masha was probably 13 or even 14. When their parents decided to adopt Sonia, they undoubtedly told their two older children to be kind and welcoming. And I think Vanya did like Sonia pretty quickly, and they were closer in age. Masha was already in her own world.

MASHA (Carrie Hitchcock)

Masha is a successful actress and movie star who has a glamorous life, and is a millionaire from her successful Sexy Killer movies. There are many prototypes of the self-involved, glamorous actress: Madam Arkadina in Chekhov's The Seagull, Judith Bliss in Noel Coward's Hay Fever, and Bette Davis as Margo Channing in the classic film All About Eve.

SPIKE (JJ Phillips)

Spike is Masha’s “beloved,” as she says. But basically they have been together for three months, and their age difference is really rather big. Spike genuinely likes and finds Masha attractive, but as a young man he has a non-stop eye for lots of women, including young women.

CASSANDRA (Rรกna Roman)

I have always loved the Greek tragedy character of Cassandra, who sees the terrible future ahead and warns people, but the god Apollo has cursed her so that no one believes what she prophesies. Cassandra has pretty much no connection to Chekhov, but my impulse was to give Vanya and Sonia a cleaning woman who had the name Cassandra and could indeed see the future, at least somewhat.

NINA (Elodie Senetra)

Nina is indeed somewhat like Nina in The Seagull. In Chekhov, she is an aspiring actress, and she is agog at meeting Madam Arkadina. But my Nina is also American, and she has rather classy tastes. She is very young and full of hope.

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, directed by Marcella Kearns, runs August 11 to 28 at the Broadway Theatre Center's Cabot Theatre, 158 N. Broadway. For tickets and additional information, call 414.291.7800 or visit