Being Authentic: A Story from Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Portland Center Stage's, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is threaded with themes, from Chekhov's plays to global warming, from jealousy to the true meaning of success.

The characters are wonderful, my favorites including the fortune-telling housekeeper (Olivia Negron), and the girl next door (Eden Malyn). 

And Sonia.

Sonia is the character whose story speaks to the heart. She is the listless older sister (played by the fabulous Sharonlee McLean) who has lived at home all her life. She slumps in her bathrobe, a fifty-ish woman waiting to be alive. Even when smashing a coffee cup in a fit of rage against her brother, her face registers zero emotion.

I found myself riveted by what happens next. Masha, her younger, "successful," sister, invites Sonia to a costume party. Sonia does something completely uncharacteristic. Sonia says yes. She procures a ruby sequined dress, upstages her glamorous sister, and has the time of her life.

Sharonlee McLean has the audience in stitches as she goes from slumping to strutting. Sonia assumes an outlandish British accent and pretends to be the actress Maggie Smith.

This, for me, is key. Are you truly engaging in life if you are simply acting a role?

The phone rings the next day. Sonia is dumbfounded that someone from the party has taken an interest in her. She shifts from her monotone to her over-the-top accent and airs.

Then she admits, "The person you like is not really me." 

Finally, she has the wherewithal to say, "You don't mind if I don't use my Maggie Smith voice, do you?"

And this is the moment when she is most brave, most alive. This is the point many of us never reach.

I should speak for myself.

When I met the man who is now my husband, I wanted him to think I was fun to be with.  Since he loved eating out, I loved eating out. Since he loved being on the go, I loved being on the go. I never let him see that after our weekends together, I would crawl into bed at seven p.m. and sleep for twelve hours, avoiding social contact for several days until I could recover.   

And so, when I finally won his approval and his commitment, like Sonia, I had the feeling that, "The person you like is not really me."

The thing about marriage is that facades wear off. There comes a time when you have to be yourself.

It took me years of people-pleasing before I came to greater understanding and acceptance of this person I call me.

Over time, I dropped more of the "costume" with my husband as well as with others. No, I didn't have an accent. No, I didn't wear red sequins.

The beauty of this authenticity is that I can feel loved for who I am, not for who I'm pretending to be.

When I meet people, am I focusing on their approval? If I'm trying to please, I'm not going to be the person I enjoy being.

This goes for my creative life, too. As a writer, am I going to choose topics, stories, or voices that I think you want to hear? Or will I pursue what fascinates and delights my own creative soul?

When I drop the need for approval - just drop it - and start loving who I am, I find creative freedom.

Portland Center Stage photo credits: Patrick Weishampel 


What about you? Are you being honest and authentic? Or are you trying to earn others' approval and admiration?

Writing prompt:

 Think of someone you want to impress, either from the past, the present, or the future. 

You might invent a fictional character for this role. 

Write a scene where you drop all pretenses and simply engage with this human being as yourself. 

What happens?   

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