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Sopris Theatre Company’s play runs for nine performances through April 25

By Kristin Carlson

Sopris Theatre Company at Colorado Mountain College announces the final show of their season, “The Nina Variations.” Written by Colorado native Steven Dietz, the play pays homage to Chekhov’s classic, “The Seagull,” while taking aim at modern misunderstandings of romantic love. In 43 variations of the final scene, Chekhov’s star-crossed lovers, Nina and Treplev, rehash what went wrong in their relationship and explore how they might have prevented it.

Brad Moore, director of the show and theatre operations manager at CMC Spring Valley, said one of the greatest challenges this past year has been finding plays that lend themselves to the socially distanced staging required during a pandemic. “The Nina Variations” appealed to Moore not only because of its clever script, but because it’s written by a playwright who welcomes unconventional casting.

Scene from "The Nina Variations"

From left, James Steindler and Ciara Morrison rehash their relationship in “The Nina Variations.” The two actors share the roles with three other acting couples in this contemporary take-off on Chekov’s star-crossed lovers in “The Seagull.”

Typically, a two-character play requires only two performers, but Dietz invites directors to consider nontraditional and multi-casting to represent an array of intimate relationships, each with their own unique variations. This flexibility allowed Sopris Theatre to produce a show with eight cast members while maintaining safe performance practices, because only two actors take the stage at a time.

“This is an interesting work to explore,” said Moore. “It opened up the possibility to cast multiple couples who could be near one another for rehearsals without concern for their safety.”

Moore explained that two of the pairs are couples in real life. The third pair are members of the same COVID-19 friend pod.

“The fourth pair will perform their scenes in a Zoom call and are physically distanced when in the same room,” he said. “There is a heightened sense of separation in those scenes which is really poignant.”

The cast represents the various aspects of Nina (an aspiring actress) and Treplev (an aspiring writer). The four couples include: Chris and Jamie Walsh, Ciara Morrison and James Steindler, Joshua Adamson and Bostyn Elswick, and Brendan T. Cochran and Christina Cappelli. All except Cappelli have studied theater at CMC.

Swapping roles

One of the most interesting choices Moore made was to use gender-neutral casting for the pairing of Morrison as Treplev and Steindler as Nina. “It just made sense as we explored the text,” he said.

Steindler said he was originally cast as Treplev but quickly realized that it could be interesting to swap, to see the show through the lens of another role. “Like Nina, I’m young and idealistic and want certain things, like success, but I’ve been humbled by life experience. So has she,” he said.

After multiple readings, Steindler said he felt more deeply connected to the play and its source of inspiration as well. “Chekhov doesn’t have one hero figure. Each character has their own personal motivations that make them human, not heroes or villains,” he said.

Morrison confessed that the idea of playing Treplev was a challenge at first, because she had already begun stepping into Nina’s shoes. But she soon realized that the switch reenergized her experience in unexpected ways.

“I discovered different truths in the show by getting into Treplev’s mindset,” said Morrison. “It opened new thoughts and ideas about the play as a whole. I think this show really invites diversity, inclusion and exploration,” she said.

Performances stream promptly April 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 7 p.m. and April 11, 18 and 25 at 2 p.m. Post-show conversations, hosted by CMC theatre graduate Jesse Monsalve, will be held on Zoom immediately following the streamed performances on April 9, 17 and 25.

US Bank is the season sponsor for Sopris Theatre and presenting sponsor for “The Nina Variations.” Tickets are available at ShowTix4U. Season ticket holders and full-time students may also secure tickets via svticketsales@coloradomtn.edu. Visit Sopris Theatre Company at CMC for more information.