At GableStage's production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the first thing we see is a magnificent set by Lyle Baskin. A perfect replica of a country home, beautifully lit by Steve Welsh. It held such great promise. Then the play began.
Suggested by various Chekovian plays and stories, Vanya... is a satire that, like all good satires, should be played on the same page by the actors. Satire is one of the most difficult styles to portray in that it is as delicate as a flower and must be done in all seriousness in order to bring out any inherent humor that the possibilities, as well as the dialogue, might hold. For some reason, this is not the case here.
As directed by Joseph Adler, not only are the actors not on the same page, but in several instances, not even in the same book. A defeated spinster, her brother who is a neurotic mess living in the past, a movie star sister with her imbecile of a boy-toy. The possibilities are endless. As written by Christopher Durang, each character gets his or her moment to shine. Laura Turnbull and Avi Hoffman, playing the brother and sister living together in their beautiful house of memories, each get a wonderful monologue. Turnbull receives a phone call, a "gentleman caller," if you will, who asks her out on the first date she has had in quite a while. It is at this time that the character's humor, intelligence and warmth come through. and those feelings had to have been felt by the audience.
As for Hoffman, a proven comedian of the first order, his breakdown at the end of act two is the highlight of the play. Like so many, Vanya lives in the past. His rail against social media, ineptitude, and the way things are rather than how they were is worth sitting through the two hours that precede it.
Masha is played by Margarita Coego with an energy and extreme style that, unfortunately, is not contagious. Just watch her devour the scenery (in a good way) and then realize what a fool she has made of herself with the kid who is more than half her age. Coego is a force to be reckoned with.
As that kid, Spike, Domenic Servidio steals the show. Mount Rushmore on legs, he preens, struts, flexes, plays with himself and flirts with everything in sight. It is very difficult to portray "dumb" onstage and stay real, but Servidio does. For a supporting character to run away with a performance is a reflection more of the director than the actor. Both Coego and Servidio are performing in the same style, which is why they work so beautifully together (when he licks her face at one point, rather than being repulsed, you are helplessly laughing) and separately. There is a cohesion of styles that will, probably, be absorbed with time. One of the problems with reviewing opening weekend is that the actors are not where they will be toward the end of the run. Discovery is everythingfor the actors as well as the audience.
Rounding out the cast, Jade Wheeler is Cassandra the housekeeper, a one-trick pony: voodoo, devil dolls, "seeing things" ... a little of this goes a very long way. It's the way the role is written, and Wheeler, a beautiful woman of prodigious talents, does her part well. Hayley Bruce as Nina wafts through her scenes ... Tall, exceedingly thin, she looks like she could be fallen by a sneeze, but her inner core surfaces as her scenes proceed.
All in all, a valiant try by everyone. I can't help but think that the play itself is the true problem. If that is indeed the case, I commend Adler and all concerned for a professional, concerted effort.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs through June 15, 2014, at GableStage, 1200 Anastasi Avenue, Coral Gables. For tickets or performance information, call 305-445-1119 or visit www.GableStage.org.
-- Jeffrey Bruce