"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is Theatrical Artistry"

 

By Jan Miller
November 6, 2015

Center Repertory Theater’s staging of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, currently playing at the Lesher Theater in Walnut Creek, CA. through November 21, features the theatrical artistry of Jackson Davis (Vanya), Jamie Jones (Sonia), Marcia Pizzo (Masha), Rob August (Spike), Sarah Matthes (Nina) and Anne Hallinan (Cassandra).

In Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, audiences will find a loose structure keying on the plays of Anton Chekhov. All is well for siblings Vanya and Sonia in their mundane world until they receive a surprise visit from their fading movie star sister, Masha, with her new boy-toy and a big announcement. Those who relish broad humor will love the live comedy of this play, delivered in a highly entertaining style.

This is a play within a play, all crowned at the end in a brilliant ranting monologue by Vanya, delivered with comedic punch and passion by Davis, on the demise of wholesome values in the early 21st century, complete with references to the Mouseketeers, Ozzie and Harriet, and a number of other bits of ‘50s lifestyle. For an older audience this is done to perfection.

Jamie Jones appears as a wonderfully dowdy and amusing Sonia, her life wasting away theatrically in her parents’ home with only her brother for company. Self-absorbed film actress Masha arrives with her exhibitionist beefcake boy-toy Spike in tow, as the sister who pays the bills on the home where her siblings languish in squabbling ennui.

Marcia Pizzo makes a splendidly narcissistic Masha, a budding Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard, draped lustily by Spike when he isn’t tearing off his clothes or being distracted by young Nina. August is a hoot as Spike.

Anne Hallinan is perfect in her role as Cassandra, the psychic housekeeper. Her predictions of doom and absurd prognostications, such as “Beware of Houtie Pie,” turn out to be a significant plot twist.

In all, this is a fun, brazen, intriguing play, directed by Mark Anderson Phillips and with solid production values by Andrea Bechert (Scenic Designer), Heidi Leigh Hanson (Costume Designer), and Kurt Landisman (Lighting Designer).

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, and continues its relevancy with a blend of comedy, flaws and such parts of American culture as classical art, psychology, history and especially strong personal opinion.

 

SHOWMAG.COM

"an amazingly pleasurable experience in every possible way"

 

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Center REP in Walnut Creek, California is an amazingly pleasurable experience in every imaginable way. From the moment one enters the Lesher Center for the Arts, everything is light, airy, friendly, efficient, and pleasant. Not even crusty old curmudgeons who can usually find some nit to pick to ruin evenings could whisper a discouraging word. Mark Anderson Phillips, the cast, and the entire design team have put together a delightful celebration of self-loathing, bitterness, low self-esteem, and longing for the return of a dying culture.

Christopher Durang's story is of three siblings. One, Masha (Marcia Pizzo) is in control of the family estate and wants to sell it off. The other two, Sonia and Vanya (Jamie Jones and Jackson Davis) are powerless idles who would face destitution should the estate be sold. By the way, the three siblings' estate has a cherry orchard, and they glory at the sight of a particular sea-going bird. Your synapses are now firing away, and when you add three siblings, their names, a cherry orchard, and a sea-going bird, you come up with, of course, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard, and The Seagull by the good doctor, Anton Chekhov.

If you've ever seen a Chekhov play before, they are often played in a somber, sullen, and slow manner, and you most likely wondered at it being billed as “a comedy”. And now, you can forget all that. Durang's play removes the moribund veil on Chekhov and reveals the ridiculousness and incongruity of characters who are bent on savoring every delicious morsel of suffering they can muster.  It is this reviewer's fondest hope that this play illuminates the intention of the playwright, and that all future Chekhov productions will be moved permanently toward farce and ridicule.

Along with the suffering siblings are three other characters. Spike (Rob August) is Masha's boy-toy who contrasts the familial gloom with his self-conceit and exhibitionism. The cleaning lady, Cassandra (Anne Hallinan), you guessed it, is the prophetess whom no one believes. Hallinan breaks into presentational, tragic Greek monologues in a bombastic manner as stereotypical as the Chekhovian drawing room “comedy." And to top it all off, there is the visiting neighbor girl who longs to be a great actress, Nina (Sara Matthes), who, with the help of Vanya, presents a hideously hilarious monologue of self indulgence.

The technical elements of the production are cohesive and appropriately support the actions of the play.  Costumes, scenery, lighting, props, and sound artists Heidi Leigh Hanson, Andrea Bechert, Kurt Landisman, Roger Anderson, and Matt Stines all contribute to the sensory stimulation that makes this production a must see for all Bay Area theatre aficionados.

— Sheldon Haun

 

AISLE SAY San Francisco

Reviewed by Judy Richter

 

Fans of Anton Chekhov will probably have a field day with Christopher Durang's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike."

Even those who have only a passing acquaintance with the Russian playwright will no doubt enjoy the Center Repertory Company production.

The title itself alludes to "Uncle Vanya" and "The Three Sisters," while the text expands on them as well as "The Cherry Orchard" and "The Seagull" -- albeit with many more laughs.

The first three title characters are siblings. Vanya and Sonia (who is adopted) live in their family's farmhouse in Bucks County, Penn. Masha is a Hollywood actress who comes to visit. The much younger Spike is her latest flame.

As the play opens, 57-year-old Vanya (Jackson Davis) and 52-year-old Sonia (Jamie Jones) sip their morning coffee and bicker. Also on hand is Cassandra (Anne Hallinan), their eccentric cleaning lady, who's prone to making dire predictions.

Vanya, who is gay but apparently celibate, and never married Sonia seem resolved to continuing their humdrum lives The arrival of the oft-married, self-centered, attractive Masha (Marcia Pizzo) with the studly Spike (Rob August) upsets that status quo.

Not only does she plan to attend a neighbor's costume party dressed as the Walt Disney version of Snow White, she wants Vanya and Sonia to be two of her dwarfs, while Spike is her Prince Charming.

Vanya agrees to go as Doc, but Sonia refuses to be Dopey. Instead, she rounds up her own costume and goes as the evil but glamorous witch. An aspiring young actress, Nina (Sarah Matthes), who is visiting nearby relatives, agrees to go as Dopey.

In the meantime, much to her siblings' consternation, Masha says she wants to sell the house, which she owns and for which she pays all the bills on top of a monthly stipend to her siblings.

The next day, Nina and Vanya start to enact a dreadful play he's writing. Spike's attention to texting on his smart phone launches Vanya into an impassioned tirade about how communications have changed for the worse. He laments the loss of the days when there were only three or four TV stations (perhaps that explains the seemingly anachronistic TV antenna on the roof) and when people enjoyed such wholesome fare as "Howdy Doody," "I Love Lucy" and "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Spike's action also becomes the catalyst for the sibling's happy resolution and a final scene that's almost straight out of "Uncle Vanya."

As directed by Mark Anderson Phillips, the first act tends to move slowly, but the second act picks up. He has a topnotch cast, but Davis's Vanya inexplicably speaks with a possibly Russian accent that's unlike the accent usually heard in that part of Pennsylvania.

Likewise, the set designed by Andrea Bechert is a melange of styles bearing faint resemblance to the old stone farmhouses endemic to the area. Other design elements work well with lighting by Kurt Landisman, sound by Matt Stines and costumes by Heidi Leigh Hanson.

Among other awards, the play won the 2013 Tony Award for best play. It's easy to see why with its witty blend of Chekhovian allusions in a modern setting.