~ by Rebecca Nimerfroh ~
Whether you are an only child, or have never heard of Anton Chekhov, you will still love the hilariously funny Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a tale of three grown siblings struggling over their life trajectories (or lack thereof), echoing the late Russian playwright Chekhov’s common themes of family drama and self-involved crisis. Think Woody Allen meets family group therapy; after hilariously and unwillingly being forced to come back together for a short period of time, amid personal revolutions, the siblings grow, largely due to the influences they have over each other.
Nantucket is lucky indeed to have Tony Award winning Director Martin Platt on-island for the direction of this production, the same play for which he won the award in 2013. And if that weren’t enough, the cast is stellar and believable, sincere and wickedly funny. With TV and film credits including Law & Order: SVU and The Royal Tenenbaums, Liam Craig plays Vanya, the gay brother in the family who struggles with mid-life identity while rejecting desperate advances from his adopted sister Sonia, played perfectly by Carol Halstead whose own impressive credits include Broadway in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man. Masha is played by White Heron Theatre’s own Lynne Bolton, who perfectly personifies the movie-star sister who is successful and self-involved and facing her own demons of failed relationships and aging in a young Hollywood world.
The play opens with a look into the very slow way of life for Vanya and Sonia as they meet in the sunroom of their late parents’ home for morning coffee. The audience benefits from their hysterical honesty with each other. “I dreamt I was 52 and wasn’t married,” Sonia whines (she is, in fact, 52 and unmarried). “Were you dreaming,” her brother quips, “in documentary form?” Amidst this morbid comedy, Vanya and Sonia’s housekeeper enters the scene, appropriately named Cassandra (convincingly played by Brandy Zarle), who spews in her European accent various different warnings such as beware the ides of March, even though Vanya points out it’s mid August. “I have asked you repeatedly to please just say ‘good morning!’” Vanya exclaims. But on occasion Cassandra’s various warnings have proved accurate, and on this morning in particular one of her warnings rings deeper and more frightful – she predicts that their house will be sold and Vanya and Sonia will be homeless.
Distracted by their banter, they have forgotten about an expected visit by their celebrity sister Masha who also happens to have ownership of their late parents’ estate, the homestead in which Vanya and Sonia currently reside. Masha arrives with boy toy in tow, an aspiring actor named Spike (hilariously portrayed by Jack Fellows) who is all too happy to strip to his underwear at the very sight of the lake outside. He almost got the part in Entourage 2, Masha proudly informs the deflated Vanya and Sonia. Like any young boy toy, Spike has wandering eyes, and while at the lake he meets neighbor Nina (played in a strong performance by Marina Bousa), another beautiful young thing who in her early twenties who happens to be an aspiring actress herself. Back she comes to the house with Spike when she hears of the presence of her idol, the celebrity sister Masha.
The play continues along these hilarious lines, and of course Masha drops the bomb that she has chosen to sell the house. What ensues gets a bit more real then – Sonia recalls the challenges of caring for her aging parents before their deaths, letting the hopes and dreams of her own life dissipate as she did so, and Vanya gives a thundering soliloquy about the treasures of growing up in an era that was harder and more meaningful than the ease of today’s youth. Masha must face her own realty then too, her history of failed marriages, her shallow relationship with Spike, her age in the presence of the many Ninas of the world.
Written by award-winning playwright Christopher Durang, this play skillfully borrows on the reoccurring Chekhov theme of frustration from a wasted life, while still managing to create a story that is both humorous and fresh. Director Martin Platt explains “we find it funny that these people view their small problems as huge life crises – life and death issues. We all do that.” And perhaps, being able to laugh at these characters in crises helps us all remember to do just that in the face of our own.
Endearing and smart, wickedly funny and honest, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a hilarious family affair you won’t soon forget. White Heron Theatre’s production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is running now until September 9 in The Dreamland Theatre, 17 So. Water Street. For tickets, call the box office at 508-228-2156 or visit whiteherontheatre.org.