Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Vanya (Mark Nelson) and his adopted sister Sonia (Caryn West) have tended to their parents' home as the elders declined and finally passed on. The locale is a three dimensional farmhouse, designed by Cowie, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The droll Vanya, wearing a nightshirt provided by costumer Tricia Barsamian, is sort of bitter, sort of kind, sort of accepting his circumstancesat least for a while. Sonia, however, feels that she has clearly lost the best years of her life. Meanwhile, sister Masha (Leslie Hendrix) has been running through husbands, five of them, while acting in movies. When she appears on the scene, blonde, extroverted Masha minces few words. She has worked hard to pay bills so that the house remains ... Masha also totes along the resplendently muscled young man of hers, Spike (David Gregory). He is aggressive in his zeal to score a part in "Entourage 2." Ever displaying his pecs, abs, delts, lats and whatever else, this guy is one annoying hunk who makes irritating noises as he cavorts around and about.
Cassandra (Stacey Sargeant) is a strong-minded soul who takes care of the house, has committed to memory many lines derived from Greek drama, and who has access, if you will, to voodoo. Nina (Andrea Lynn Green) is a sweet young woman who is niece of a neighbor. The reference to Chekhov's The Seagull is obvious. Yes, Durang draws from the great Russian master, but it is not especially necessary to have knowledge of Chekhovian theater to appreciate Vanya and Sonia ....
The first act of the play is greatly diverting, clever, and pleasurable. One of Sonia's early lines is telling and quick-witted: "If everyone took anti-depressants, Chekhov would have nothing to write about."
The plot evolves and Masha insists that everyone don suitable garb to attend a costume party; her chosen motif, she declares, will be "Snow White." Masha will become the title character, but others will view her, given her wardrobe, as Norma Desmond or even a Hummel figurine. Sonia grabs the spotlight by playing The Evil Queen as Maggie Smith who is making her way to the Academy Award ceremonies.
Deep into the second act, Vanya, probably standing in for the playwright, delivers a serious monologue of his own which references 1950s television shows ... but, more poignantly, a dark view of the universe. Nelson is persuasive and detailed with his delivery. Durang is skeptical, to be kind, with his outlook for us all, and the tone of his play takes a serious shift. Vanya, actually called Uncle Vanya by Nina, is philosophical and candid. He is disturbed that individuals are not in tune with one another.
At the very end of his script, Durang tosses up signs of hope. Perhaps this particular family can come together and, for people such as Vanya and Sonia and Masha, fifty-somethings, the future might include positives. This trend must have pleased most theatergoers at Hartford Stage early during the run of the show, but is too little too late. The playwright's point, through his bittersweet humor, is that current life and times are anything but fulfilling. As one reflects upon the opening sequence of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the initial commentary holds sway.
Durang paints singular characters and much of the first act is deliciously inviting. He lifts names from Anton Chekhov plays and this is such fun. The evening does grow somewhat lengthy but is certainly worth a visit.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike continues its run at Hartford Stage through June 22nd, 2014. For tickets, call (860) 527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.
- Fred Sokol