Talkin' Broadway Regional News & Reviews: Cleveland - "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" - 4/21/15
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CLEVELAND
Regional Reviews by David Ritchey

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Cleveland Play House

Also see David's review of The Tempest


Danielle Lee Greaves and John Scherer
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike has become the most produced play in this country. Productions by regional and community theatre companies have brought the play to many local audiences. And, what a joy this script is. Playwright Christopher Durang is one of America's best and looniest writers, proven again in this script. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike received the Tony Award in 2013 for Best Play. The Cleveland Play House production honors the playwright by being as magnificently funny as the script.

You don't have to be a Chekhov expert to enjoy this play, yet the story is full of Chekhovian themes and ideas. One critic wrote that Durang puts Chekhov into the comic blender. What comes out is great fun.

Vanya (John Scherer) and Sonia (Toni DiBuono), brother and sister, live in the family home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Their sister Masha (Margaret Reed) is a sometimes movie star, who at best knows her star is fading. Masha supports the house and her siblings with her acting, having left Vanya and Sonia to care for their mother and father. The parents have been dead for years, but Sonia and Vanya don't seem to be able to get off their chairs and make anything happen in their lives.

Their doldrums are interrupted when Masha returns for a visit and brings her current boy-toy Spike (Gregory Isaac Stone). Masha has decided to sell the family home, though that may put Sonia and Vanya on the street. Masha is in love with Spike, who likes to roam through life—and the set—in the most body-conscious underwear made. The three siblings spend a good deal of time debating their cherry orchard. Some think they have a cherry orchard. Other characters think that six trees do not a cherry orchard make. But this line of argument brings us back to Chekhov.

One of the bright spots in Sonia and Vanya's life is Cassandra (Danielle lee Greaves) the housekeeper. Cassandra has psychic powers and makes wild, improbable predications, which in this script come true. She also practices voodoo. The classic Cassandra was given the power of prophecy by Apollo, but was cursed so that no one would believe her prophecies. The Cassandra in Durang's script has some of those problems, too.

The characters come together to attend a neighbor's costume party. They are joined by Nina (Maren Bush), who is so taken by Vanya, she declares, "I think I'll call you Uncle Vanya." The costume party changes the lives of all of the characters for the better. Each seems to learn something about his or her life and goes about living life more realistically.

Durang's language falls naturally from the tongues of the actors. Many of the lines, of course, are reminiscent of Chekhov.

The actors are at the top of their game. John Scherer is an especially gifted performer. In the second act, he has a long monologue, which rises and falls with emotion and volume. At the end of this speech, he turns upstage and makes an exit. The audience applauded for him—and it was a well-deserved recognition.

Toni DiBuono plays much of the first part of the show in dowdy pajamas and robe. But when she dresses for the party, she wears a long green gown decorated with sparkles, and she's stunning.

But it's Danielle Lee Greaves, who plays Cassandra, a voodoo queen, psychic, and predictor of all things good and bad, who stands out the most. Greaves plays Cassandra with plenty of big, broad physical movements. This is in sharp contrast to Vanya and Sonia, who are so bored and world weary they can only discuss whether today's coffee is better or worse than yesterday's coffee.

The show is well acted overall.

Bruce Jordan, director, does a magnificent job of keeping the action moving at a clipped pace. The characters are believable and reflect the naturalism that marked Chekhov's plays. Bill Clarke, scenic designer, has created an extended box set that seems to have only one wall cut off so the audience can see inside—again, the style of Chekhov productions. The house, in truth, resembles Durang's own house in Bucks County.

This is a beautiful production. Well directed and beautifully acted, the production is honed to the bone and makes for a wonderful evening in the theater.

Tickets for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike in the Allen Theatre at Cleveland Play House are available at 216-241-6000 or clevelandplayhouse.com.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Playwright: Christopher Durang
Sonia: Toni DiBuono
Vanya: John Scherer
Cassandra: Danielle lee Greaves
Masha: Margaret Reed
Spike: Gregory Isaac Stone
Nina: Maren Bush
Director: Bruce Jordan
Scenic Designer: Bill Clarke
Costume Designer: Mimi Maxmen


Photo: Roger Mastroianni

- David Ritchey



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