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SAN DIEGO
Regional Reviews by Bill Eadie

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
The Old Globe


Tyler Lansing Weaks, Haneefah Wood, Candy Buckley and Martin Moran
First things first: Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which just opened at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, is funny. Very funny. Guffaw-inspiring funny.

It's also fairly Chekhovian, if you recall that Chekhov thought his plays were comedies. If you go hoping to wallow in melancholy, you'll see that what little survives functions as a set-up for jokes.

Not that jokes are bad things, of course ...

Mr. Durang is a prolific and well-produced playwright who is at the height of his craft here. He's written a clever mainline comedy intended for success on Broadway and in regional productions. And he's succeeded: the show sells itself and a top-notch production merely adds to the fun.

Not that top-notch productions are bad things, of course ...

At a lovely farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a Delaware River country retreat favored by artistic types, Vanya (Martin Moran) and his adoptive sister Sonia (Marcia DeBonis) are wallowing in melancholy following the deaths of their parents, for whom they have cared for the last several years. Like an ill wind, in from The Coast blows Masha (Candy Buckley), the parents' daughter by birth and the owner of the house, along with her boy toy Spike (Tyler Lansing Weaks). Masha is a film actress whose career is in need of a makeover—and Spike is her "cure" for melancholy.

Not that film actresses and boy toys are bad things, of course ...

With all of the family members craving melancholy, the mood could easily become overly Chekhovian, and yes, in a bad way. So, Mr. Durang throws in two interlopers to keep things lively. One is the housekeeper, conveniently named Cassandra (Haneefah Wood), who gets to warn of impending disaster and comment irreverently on her employers. The other is an actress staying at a neighboring farm. She is named Nina (Allison Layman), also conveniently, and she is young and beautiful. She is also pliable and seems to exist in the story to serve as a butt of jokes and as a diversion for Spike's ever-wandering eye.

While I admire the way in which Mr. Durang put Vanya and Sonia together, I do miss his ability to transgress audience sensibilities. He's often been at his most transgressive when dealing with religious or spiritual topics, as in his two one-acts, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You and The Actor's Nightmare, as well as in his full-length play Miss Witherspoon. About the only thing that gets even kind-of transgressive in Vanya, et al., occurs when Ms. Wood pulls out a voodoo doll. It gets a whole lot of laughs, but at the expense of perpetuating an ethnic stereotype.

Not that ethnic stereotypes are bad things—oh, wait, yes they are ...

Back to the top-notch production. The Old Globe has mounted a fitting tribute to the late Nicholas Martin, its associate artist who directed the Broadway version and who was to have directed this version as well. Jessica Stone, his associate, took over for Mr. Martin and ably based her staging on his original design. David Korins also re-created his gorgeous Broadway scenic design for the Old Globe stage, and Gabriel Berry's costumes, David Weiner's lighting, and Mark Bennett's original music and sound design are all entirely on the mark.

The casting is fine as well, though here I'd like to scold the Globe management a bit. The New York cast featured big names such as David Hyde-Pierce (Vanya) and Sigourney Weaver (Masha), as well as Broadway vets such as Tony-nominated Kristin Nielson. For the Globe, Caparelliotis Casting came up with east coast actors (Ms. Wood recently transplanted to Los Angeles, and Ms. Layman is enrolled in the Old Globe/University of San Diego MFA acting program), all of whom play their parts well but not exceptionally. I can think of several fine San Diego-based actors who would have done equally well or better (remember, the play sells itself) and who would have delighted the local theatregoing community to see them featured at the Globe.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs through June 22, 2014. It will be joined soon by Dog and Pony, a new musical by Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) and Michael Patrick Walker (Altar Boyz).

Not that pairing a solid Broadway play with a New York-aspiring world premiere musical is a bad thing, of course ...

The Old Globe presents Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage at the Old Globe campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Ticket prices start at $29, and tickets may be obtained by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting http://www.oldglobe.org.

Directed by Jessica Stone (based on the Broadway direction of Nicholas Martin), with Scenic Design by David Korins, Costume Design by Gabriel Berry, Lighting Design by David Weiner, and Original Music and Sound Design by Mark Bennett.

The cast features Candy Buckley (Masha), Marcia DeBonis (Sonia), Tyler Lansing Weaks (Spike), Allison Layman (Nina), Martin Moran (Vanya), Haneefah Wood (Cassandra).


Photo: Jim Cox

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie



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