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Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

a Comedy
by Christopher Durang

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 4789

SHOWING : October 01, 2015 - October 25, 2015



Melancholy turns into mayhem when Vanya and his sister, Sonia—along with their clairvoyant housekeeper, Cassandra—are paid a surprise visit by their movie star sibling, Masha, and her boy-toy, Spike. This zany new comedy that took Broadway by storm in 2013 borrows characters and themes from Chekhov, pours them into a blender and mixes them up–and the results are an utterly hilarious and occasionally touching story of regret, sibling rivalry, and growing older.

A co-production with Horizon Theatre Company.

Director Justin Anderson
Cassandra Denise Arribas
Sonia LaLa Cochran
Masha Tess Malis Kincaid
Spike Edward McCreary
Vanya Bill Murphey
Nina India Sada Tyree
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Chekhovian Overload
by playgoer
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" is filled – nay, over-filled – with references to Chekhov characters and plays. Christopher Durang has mashed them up with Greek tragedy (the unheeded prophetess Cassandra) and Walt Disney ("Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"), then set it in the modern day. It doesn’t work.

To begin with, the exposition is awkward and heavy-handed. Perhaps the stilted language is an homage to bad translations of Chekhov, but the spirit of Chekhov does not lie in the language of his nineteenth century translators. We have the Chekhovian situation of two hangers-on (Vanya and Sonia) who fear they will be turned out of their long-time home, and that’s about all there is to care about. Masha is a self-absorbed actress; Spike is a self-absorbed stud. The other two characters in the play (Cassandra and Nina) act more as plot devices than anything else.

There’s some of Durang’s trademark zany silliness, but it doesn’t mix well with the storyline. The most affecting part of the play, for me, was Sonia’s phone call to a possible suitor. Vanya’s outburst comparing modern conveniences and culture to the equivalents from his heyday is intended to be affecting too, I guess, but I found it pretty obvious (and therefore boring) for someone who’s lived through the same time period as Vanya.

That’s not to say that this is a second-rate production of the play. Quite the opposite is true. All the acting is good, with Tess Malis Kincaid a particular marvel as Masha. The set, by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay, is of an elegant stacked stone and clapboard house (although the stone looks pretty fake under the bright lights designed by Mary Parker, and a couple of "paintings" appear more likely to be computer-printed facsimiles). Thom Jenkins’ sound design allows for tuneful scene transitions. Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay’s costumes are visually appealing. Justin Anderson’s direction shows off the actors at their best.

Part of my disappointment with this play comes from its similarities to "Stupid (expletive) Bird," currently playing at Actor’s Express. Both are inspired by Chekhov’s works, and both of them gussy up Chekhov with their own interpolations of new material that the playwrights intend to add interest to the stodgy plots of a long-dead Russian. Both take the situation of Constantin’s amateur reading of a bad original play from "The Seagull" and make it a centerpiece of the action. "Bad" is good? No. Both productions catch fire only when the action lets us enter into the lives of the characters without interruption by quirky playwright add-ons. Modernizing classics is fine; shredding them to make a nicely cushy platform for a playwright to show off his uniqueness is not. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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