Chekhov through an absurdist mirror – Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Categories: Professional Theatre

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Teri Loretto-Valentik, foreground, who plays Masha in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, now playing at The Gladstone until June 5. (Photo by Tony Caldwell)

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
By Christopher Durang
Plosive Productions
Directed by David Whiteley

Playwright Christopher Durang has referred to his award-winning 2012 absurdist comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike as putting the works of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov through a blender.

It is an apt description. The three siblings of the title are named after characters in Chekhov’s plays (because their scholarly parents loved the 19 th -century playwright’s works.) The three — a brother, a sister and an adopted sister, rather than Chekhov’s three sisters — attempt to cope with Chekhovian misery and insecurity until peace finally descends over their lake and their not-quite Chekhovian cherry orchard. (Whether 10 or11 trees constitute an orchard is a point of discussion throughout.)

Vanya and Sonia (being adopted increases her self-pity and insignificance, as she constantly points out) rely on the sameness of their days in the home they never left, after their parents’ death. They watch for a blue heron (rather than Chekhov’s seagull). Vanya (inspired by the character of Konstantin in The Seagull) writes an odd play in which a molecule is the lead character, read by a young visiting neighbour, named Nina (of course).

Vanya’s intentionally weird script is simply a vehicle for prompting a coarse response from movie queen Masha’s toy boy, Spike. That, in turn, opens the way for Vanya’s lengthy rant calling for the return to the good old days — a world before smart phones, texting and other electronic devices, in which people wrote elegant letters, licked the stamps to be pasted on envelopes and talked to each other.

The domestic drama, dealing with the minor disruption of the daily routine, broken cups and appropriate wear for a costume party, is held together by the broad comedy that mocks the underlying theme of gloom and despair. To spice the mix, Durang throws in a little mock Greek tragedy via Cassandra, the prophetic cleaning lady, who also has a handle on voodoo. This she uses to discourage Masha, who bears all the house expenses and gives her two siblings their pocket money, from selling their lakeside home.

As directed by David Whiteley, the Plosive Productions presentation of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike offers a mix of realism and over-the- top broad comedy among the six characters. Slightly more restraint in Beverley Wolfe’s comic craziness as Cassandra, Drew Moore’s caricature of sexiness as Spike and Teri Loretto-Valentik’s noisy selfishness as Masha might have moved their characterizations from caricature to believability. Certainly, Masha’s lower-toned jealous reaction to the youthful Nina (Sarah Finn) is more effective.

Meanwhile, Mary Ellis as Sonia and Chris Ralph as Vanya walk the fine line between characterization and caricature with such precision that both are a delight to watch. One of the highlights of Ellis’ performance is her telephone conversation with the first beau to call her. Similarly, Ralph handles his massive monologue about the state of the world with masterful ease.

Plosive Productions’ Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike continues at the Gladstone to June 5.

Set: David Whiteley
Lighting: David Magladry
Sound: Fiona Currie
Costumes: Kariane Lachance and Company; Carol Ann Steeves: Snow White costumes

Cast:
Vanya…………………………………………………..Chris Ralph
Sonia……………………………………………………Mary Ellis
Cassandra……………………………………………….Beverley Wolfe
Masha…………………………………………………..Teri Loretto-Valentik
Spike…………………………………………………….Drew Moore
Nina……………………………………………………..Sarah Finn


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