Victoria’s review of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
'BURGH VIVANT: Review - "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," City Theatre
Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike
Photo by Marc J. By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight. To help support 12thnight. You know, middle-aged disappointment, Russian-style ennui, under-achievement, regret, missed chances, the ineffectual pursuit of lost causes. Anyhow, even nostalgia is depressing in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.
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Nomenclature would seem to be fate, cruel fate, for the insecure inhabitants of this gentle, rambling farce, which opened on Monday night at the Mitzi E. Spike, a wild card in a stacked deck, is an actor whose real name is Vlad., Credits have been updated below to reflect changes for the Broadway transfer. In a great leap of imagination, Durang lifts characters and storylines from four Chekhov plays plus a tragedy by Aeschylus and transplants them from provincial Russia to present-day Bucks County.
In this it has a long pedigree, including much of Woody Allen and all of Neil Simon; the play actually quotes the latter, making liberal use of a character from California Suite. Durang himself has said he took Chekhovian characters and tropes and put them in a blender. The three siblings not sisters; see what he did there? They speak in stilted style, which, while probably designed to evoke Chekhov, actually produces the opposite effect. The characters seem one-dimensional — Vanya is repressed, Sonia is depressed, Masha is insecure, Spike is narcissistic, and Nina is sweet. The best parts of the play are the bits that have nothing to do with Chekhov.
Shocking it is to admit, my personal familiarity with the classic works of playwright Anton Chekhov is basically slim to none. Apparently filled with casual allusions to past Chekhov works—from character names and one-off references to thematic motifs—the play does offer, at its core, a laugh-a-minute comedy about a dysfunctional trio of siblings trying to face the apparently troubling onset of middle age…and the possibility that they may not have done enough in their lives to deem it a satisfactory one. An enjoyably snarky comedy with occasional over-the-top moments bordering on absurd, I first encountered this very funny play in its Los Angeles debut production directed by the play's original Broadway star, David Hyde Pierce at the Center Theatre Group's Mark Taper Forum in Even then, it struck me as a supremely entertaining play, filled with wit and sass, but yet surprisingly deep and introspective as well. Now the play lives on again in a slightly smaller, but still undeniably funny production, this time at Orange County's Tony-winning regional theater South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa under the direction of Bart DeLorenzo, which continues performances through October 21, As the title clearly suggests, the play focuses on four main characters—three of which are related, while a fourth seemingly comes in just to stir things up.
I was trying to think of one word to describe this play: sophomoric! But perhaps the others were better productions. Vanya David Hyde Pierce and Sonia Kristine Nielsen are brother and adopted sister who seem to be living out their days in the family home that their parents have recently departed. They do little more than sit waiting for the local heron to pay a visit and repeat lines from Chekhov - Sonia is in mourning for her life Get it? These two have a lot of time on their hands and not much to fill it.