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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Chekov Would Chortle at Zany
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

ACT Theatre

Also see David's review of Hacienda Holiday

Cynthia Jones
The names (well most of them) are about the only thing Chekhovian about playwright Christopher Durang's mostly madcap Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, though they do underline a wee strain of melancholy and sentimentality that underscore this frolic, being given a superlative production by director Kurt Beattie and an ideal cast at ACT Theatre.

Durang's main characters, the sedentary brother and adopted sister Vanya and Sonia (R. Hamilton Wright and Marianne Owen), aren't longing for Moscow, or seagulls. They are merely existing in a lovely Bucks County, Pennsylvania, brick residence (a stunner of a set by scenic designer Carey Wong) where they once looked after their now deceased parents while movie star sister Masha (Pamela Reed) paid the bills and made luminous guest appearances. Such an appearance (luminosity in question) comes about when Masha arrives suddenly, luggage, insecurities, and youthful dimwitted party boy stud Spike (William Poole) in tow. Venerable family housekeeper Cassandra (Cynthia Jones) roams the premises with dire predictions of doom (her name is a reference to the seer of Greek mythology) and Nina (Sydney Andrews), an enchanting young neighbor's niece, drops in to add froth to the mix and give Masha a rival, however preposterous, for the preening Spike

There is very little plot, or need for one amidst Durang's laugh a minute dialogue and wonderfully observed eccentric characters intermingling and resolving some old family issues. Seattle stalwart R. Hamilton Wright as the unattached gay brother Vanya has never been better, mixing his dry comic delivery with a surprisingly potent and endearing ramble about the demise of his generation's pop-culture. Owen is an unabashed delight, never more than when Sonia is implored by Masha to go to a costume party and refuses to be one of the Seven Dwarfs, preferring her own take on the Evil Queen which I won't spoil here. Reed revs up her own Hollywood experiences to deliciously embody an endearingly egocentric Masha who has all but covered up her own humanity, and is appalled that no one recognizes her own specially made Disney Snow White costume (Catherine Hunt's costumes designs take a bow!).

Poole effortlessly embodies the type of airhead that might have gotten an M.A. from the Gloria Upson School of Humanities (read "Auntie Mame" if this went over your head, kids) and Andrews is all quicksilver charm. And then there's Ms. Jones' Cassandra. From the moment she appears she owns every moment she is on stage. Her portents of doom and acts of voodoo balderdash are as comically inspired as it gets. And that goes for the entirety of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Go see it and wander among its (tiny) cherry orchard. And oh, heed Cassandra's warning "Beware of Hootie Pie!" if you know what's good for you!

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs through November 16, 2014, at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle. For tickets 206-292-7676 or online at

Photo: Chris Bennion

- David Edward Hughes

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