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Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Asolo Rep

Also see Bill's review of Susannah

Ann-Marie Cusson, Peggy Roeder, Jefferson McDonald and Andrew Sellon
Asolo Rep is presenting Christopher Durang's Tony Award winning Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike in a superlative production, its Florida premiere. The Broadway production, headed by by David Hyde Pierce and Sigourney Weaver, may have created some excitement for the starry cast but the play proves itself a provocative work, with richly drawn characters. I find it hard to understand why this brilliant work did not win a Pulitzer Prize. It is an homage to the deep melancholy of Chekov but very much of our time and place. One particular aspect, the loss of home, struck me deeply, while in a discussion with my companion for the afternoon I learned that something entirely different, the lessening of personal interaction in a technology dominated world, resonated strongly with her. I can imagine seeing this play at a different time of my life and getting something very different from it.

Peter Amster has directed to keep the Chekhovian linkage front and center. Several minutes before the actual beginning, the curtain is raised on Ray Klausen's beautifully detailed set, an old farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which helps the audience feel time moving slowly, an important piece of the Russian master. Dominant in the background are two trees in full bloom, as this is an American late spring not a Russian fall or winter. The characters inhabit a distinctly American rhythm about their lives, sometimes at odds with their cloistered existence and not much touched by a world of people and things moving at a normal pace just outside of theirs.

Peggy Roeder, so brilliant last year in You Can't Take it With You, plays Sonia. This character, the adopted sibling who stayed behind to help care for her parents, is worried that life has passed her by yet totally overwhelmed when finding out that it might not have. The author shows many facets of her personality, not all of which seem well connected to each other. The performance is so heartfelt that, in spite of Sonia's quirky nature, I find myself rooting for her. Andrew Sellon as her brother Vanya (their parents gave them all names from Chekov) is giving a striking performance. Vanya is the peacemaker almost all the way through the play, until a tour de force monologue shows a complete break down in which he reveals much of what lies underneath. (During an actors' talk back after the performance, Mr. Sellon illuminated some of the technical aspects of his performance.) In what is the showiest part in the play, Anne-Marie Cusson plays Masha, the sister who broke away from the family, achieving success as an actress, albeit in movies one step removed from porn. The character is self-absorbed as she thrusts current boy-toy Spike on her more sedate siblings and dominates every space she inhabits. In the second act, as Masha becomes more attuned to her connections with the rest of the family, we begin to warm to her while not forgetting her narcissistic nature. Jefferson McDonald plays the fourth titular character, Spike. MacDonald is very easy on the eyes and plays the character as not having a coherent thought in his head. Tyla Abercrumbie plays housekeeper Cassandra as a whirling dervish of a seer, exactly as mythology says she was. She also calls forth memories of the character in Berlioz' epic Les Troyens. Tori Grace Hines, third year Asolo Conservatory student, is all kindness and gentleness as Nina.

Costume design by Jennifer Caprio is outstanding, especially the outfits for a costume party that everyone is headed off to at the end of act one. They transform all of the characters into something totally outside themselves. Special mention must be made of hair/wig and make-up design by Michelle Hart. She always does an excellent job, but her wigs for Ms. Roeder are above and beyond her usual high standards. Lighting design by Ann G. Wrightson further accentuates the connection to Chekov through the use of softer lighting. Sound design by Matthew Parker is clear and makes everything understandable. All other technical aspects are up to Asolo Rep's usual high standards.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is one of the finest plays to come along in a long time and Asolo Rep is doing it full justice.

Asolo Repertory Theater presents Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike through April 13, 2014, at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center. 5555 N. Tamiami Trail. Sarasota, Florida. Box Office (941) 351-8000. For more information visit

Vanya: Andrew Sellon*
Sonia: Peggy Roeder*
Cassandra: Tyla Abercrumbie*
Masha: Anne-Marie Cusson*
Spike: Jefferson McDonald
Nina: Tori Grace Hines
*Members of Actor's Equity Association

Director: Peter Amster
Scenic Design: Ray Klausen
Costume Design: Jennifer Caprio
Lighting Design: Ann G. Wrightson
Sound Design: Matthew Parker
Hair/Wig & Make-Up Design: Michelle Hart
Voice &Dialect Coach: Patricia Delorey
Dramaturg: Lauryn E. Sasso
Stage Manager: Patrick Lanczki*

--William S. Oser

Photo: Frank Atura

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