Saturday, January 10, 2015

Huntington Theatre Company Presents Christopher Durang's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" - A Stunning Chekhovian Mash-up


Has existential despair ever been as entertaining and hilarious as it is in Christopher Durang's Tony award winning play, "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike"?  The current Huntington Theatre Company production is being presented in memory of Nicholas Martin, former Huntington Artistic Director.  Director Jessica Stone, a long time collaborator with Mr. Martin, is using much of the direction that Martin created for the Broadway production of this comedy.  You can be sure that Nicky is pleased and proud of this production.

Mr. Durang long ago moved from the frenetic pace of NYC to bucolic Bucks County, PA.  His quiet country home reminded him of some of the settings of Chekhov plays, so thus inspired, he has created this comedy that invokes the spirit of despair endemic to most of Chekhov's plays.  Audience members who are familiar with the Russian playwright's work will delight in finding allusions - some subtle and some shamelessly overt - to "The Cherry Orchard," "Uncle Vanya," "The Three Sisters," and "The Seagull."  Still, one need not be a Chekhov scholar to enjoy the universal language of mis-aligned relationships and missed opportunities at living that are the common threads in this story.

Three siblings, Vanya and Sonia and Masha interact in a kaleidoscopic array of conversations, soliloquies and rants that reveal the cracks that exist until the thin patina of family harmony.  Vanya and Sonia have grown old, remaining single to care for their aging parents while Masha went off to forge a career as a film actress.  Her contribution was to pay the bills while her siblings stayed home to change the Depends.  Resentments fester, and they come boiling to the surface when Masha comes home to Pennsylvania with Boy Toy Spike in tow.  She plans to sell the house, but Cassandra the oracular cleaning lady, has other ideas.  Nina, the innocent and winsome young niece of the next door neighbors, comes to call when she sees that her idol, Masha, is in residence.  She has a strong effect on Spike's limitless libido, and Masha panics at the thought of losing yet another man to another ingenue.  Her five failed marriages have left scars!  And so it goes.  Throw in an off-stage costume party gone wrong, some voodoo curses and you have a rollicking romp of a comedy.

Tyler Lansing Weaks, Marcia DeBonia, Candy Buckley, Allison Layman, and Martin Moran
in Christopher Durang’s smash-hit Broadway comedy 
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,
directed by Jessica Stone, based on the Broadway direction of Nicholas Martin,
playing January 2 – February 1, 2015 at the BU Theatre / Avenue of the Arts.
 Photo: Jim Cox

The cast is perfectly suited for the levels of comedy, angst and pathos that Durang envisions.
  • Martin Moran plays Vanya as effete and professorial, resigned to living out his life with his adopted sister, Sonia.  The highlight of their days is spotting the blue heron who visits their pond to feast upon the frogs. His moment to shine comes when a reading of a play that he has written is interrupted by Spike texting. Vanya launches into a prolonged rant about how things are not like they were in the old days, invoking the ghosts of Howdy Doody, Ozzie and Harriet, Senor Wences from the Ed Sullivan Show, Kukla Fran and Ollie, and lickable postage stamps. Mr Moran's performance in this scene is wondrous.
  • Marcia DeBonis plays Sonia as the ugly ducking of the flock, dowdy until the moment when she is inspired to attend the costume party as the Queen from Snow White.  This is the "Mirror, mirror on the wall" Queen.  She plays her as a drunk Maggie Smith in California Suite going to the Oscars.  Her turn as the Queen, in blue gown with flowing diaphanous appendages is hilarious.  Ms. DeBonis provides the most poignant moment of the evening when she takes a call from Joe, whom she had met at the party.  What this actor does with her face as she becomes aware that Joe finds her desirable is worth the price of admission.  It is a stunning moment in this play, and deeply moving.
  • Candy Buckley is a gloriously over-the-top diva as Masha, histrionics oozing from her every pore and cascading from her every stilted gesture and pose.  Bedecked as Snow White for the costume party, she insists that everyone dress to match her theme.  Her plot backfires and for the first time in her life she is upstaged by Sonia.
  • Haneefah Wood portrays Cassandra, who, true to her name, spouts oracular warnings that no one heeds, until they begin to realize that her pseudo-Greek tragedy pronouncements contain seeds of truth.  Her machinations to get Masha to relent from her plan to sell the homestead include voodoo dolls and an uproarious "Citizens of Athens" speech that had the audience in stitches.  Beware Hootie Pie!
  • Allison Layman is a quiet and star-struck Nina, who is less than impressed by Spike's wooing of her.  She falls at the feet of Masha, but comes to see Vanya as her "Uncle Vanya," encouraging him to overcome his fear of rejection to allow his post-apocalyptic play to be read to the others. She gently shines as a forlorn Molecule in Vanya's play, bemoaning the fate of the earth that is no more because of ecological disasters.
  • Tyler Lansing Weaks is an absolute hoot as Spike, who cannot keep his clothes on, nor can he "keep it in his pants." Playing Spike as a total male bimbo, clueless and self-absorbed, Mr. Weak's moment to shine comes when he recreates his callback audition for "Entourage 2."  His reverse strip tease is another highlight, as is his gentle taunting of closeted Vanya, who cannot keep his eyes off of the narcissistic physical specimen.
Tyler Lansing Weaks, Marcia DeBonia, Martin Moran, Allison Layman, Candy Buckley, and Haneefah Wood
in Christopher Durang’s smash-hit Broadway comedy 
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,
directed by Jessica Stone, based on the Broadway direction of Nicholas Martin,
playing January 2 – February 1, 2015 at the BU Theatre / Avenue of the Arts.
Photo: Jim Cox

The work of this fine ensemble is enhanced by the gorgeous Set by David Korins, Costumes by Gabriel Berry, Lighting by David Weiner and Original Music and Sound by Mark Bennett.

I urge you to leave the safety of your back yard cherry orchard and the company of your three sisters and follow the flock of seagulls to Huntington Avenue to enjoy this comedy that has a deep and tender heart.

Playing through February 1.

Huntington Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al

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