Saturday, May 10, 2014

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Who knew that Chekhov could be so funny?

Well, not Chekhov, exactly, but playwright Christopher Durang who has penned the Tony award winning “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” now entertaining patrons at the B Street Theater, under the deft directorial hand of Buck Busfield.  Durang does a mashup of those 19th century Russian characters and themes and sets them down in 21st century Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

There is nothing subtle about this Chekhovian knock off, as Durang hits us over the head with blatant references to works such as “Uncle Vanya,” “The Seagull,”  “Three Sisters” and “The Cherry Orchard.”  In fact, the small grove of unseen cherry trees in the backyard of the Pennsylvania home is mentioned so often as “the cherry orchard,” I felt like the old Thurber story about the unicorn (“I said there’s a unicorn in the garden...”) We’re gonna mention it until we’re sure you get it!

But the audience did get it and laughed approvingly (and often uproariously) throughout the delightful play.

Vanya (Greg Alexander) and his stepsister Sonia (Stephanie McVay) have lived their entire lives in their family’s farmhouse, caring for their ailing, now deceased, parents, while sister Masha (Jamie Jones) has been traveling around the world as a successful movie star. (“I can’t help it if I’m beautiful and intelligent and successful, can I?”)

Vanya and Sonia, in wonderful deadpan portrayals, remain trapped and regretful at how much of life has eluded them. Their lives are so routinized that Sonia is thrown for a loop when Vanya gets his own coffee one morning.  Together they wait for the birds each morning, wondering if their favorites will show up.

Cassandra, the new age-y clairvoyant cleaning woman (Tara Sissom, in an often over the top performance) warns them about terrible things coming in the immediate future. (“Beware of Hootie Pie!”)

One of those terrible things is an unexpected visit from Masha and her boy toy, the vacuous Spike (the muscular Jason Kuykendall, who removes his shirt a lot and does a wonderful reverse strip tease, putting his clothes on). Masha has come home to announce her decision to sell the family home (which, for some reason, she owns, her siblings being merely occupants).

Jones does a wonderful turn as the queen of the slasher film, who can’t understand when suddenly the world does NOT revolve around her.

Add to the mix the young star-struck, would-be actress next door neighbor, Nina (Mary Katherine Cobb), who idolizes Masha and is obviously very alluring eye candy to Spike.  Cobb, who has been a member of B Street’s internship program, is making her first appearance with the “big people” and turns in memorable performance.  Davis residents may remember seeing her mother, Mary Cobb, in local community theater performances many years ago.

Things get shaken up at a costume party, to which the reluctant Vanya and Sonia have been convinced to attend with Masha, as part of her entourage, elves to Masha's Snow White.  Sonia finds her gumption and creates her own costume, which outshines Masha.

The party turns out to be a life changing shift for all of them and leads to a memorable monologue for Vanya about the days of “Ozzie and Harriet,” and Bishop Sheen, the days when people still wrote letters and licked stamps, his disconnect from today’s world and despair for the future.  It’s a masterful performance by Alexander.

This is a laugh-out-loud funny production performed by a first rate cast which does the comic genius of Christopher Durang proud.

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