Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike: A weak script and messy directing offer up few laughs

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Categories: Professional Theatre

Photo: Tony Caldwell

Photo: Tony Caldwell

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

By Christopher Durang
Plosive Productions
Directed by David Whiteley

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

 Christopher Ferdinand Durang is a playwright whose works, written in the style of absurd comedy, deal with issues such as homosexuality, child abuse and Roman Catholic dogma and culture. While his Brodway commercial success Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is still a comedy, his signature element – absurdity – is definitely missing. The story about three middle aged single siblings, whose lives are full of insecurities, futility and unfulfilled dreams, is suppose to tell us about alienation and the meaningless of today’s society. Although the message is an undeniable truth, the way it is told comes off a bit mild, naïve and too obvious. Its combination of superficial comedic elements, too many quotations from Chekov and a long monologue about numerous old American shows (which makes the play rather local – Durang is performed worldwide) gives the audience enough to laugh at, but certainly not a lot to think about.

 The play starts with the morning coffee and constant bickering between Vanja (who is a gay) and his sister Sonja (who is adopted and does not let anyone forget it for a moment). Unemployed and without means to support themselves, they reflect on their lost chances, and debate weather nine cherry trees represent an orchard at every possible occasion. Another member of household is housekeeper Cassandra, who is prone to prophecies that nobody takes seriously. When their sister Masha, a self-centred movie star, unexpectedly comes to visit, she brings with her the fake drama of an unrealistic life, real competitiveness (which annoys Sonja very much) and a boy toy Spike, a dumb but good-looking youth in his twenties. While in the house, he meets young aspiring actress Nina, a pretty girl who provokes jealousy in Masha, but is liked by everybody else. The most promising moment in the play is when Vanja shows Nina his play about an atom. Vanja, Nina and Cassandra read the play while Spike and Masha listen. Spike is bored, so he plays with his cell phone, causing Vanja to burst in anger. Unfortunately, the promising moment ends there. Vanja starts on a very long monologue (in the style of a stand-up comedy) about the good old times. The play ends with Masha having a date, Spike running away with Masha’s secretary and the three siblings reconciled.

As the text itself does not offer a lot, the play depends completely on director and actors. It is hard to tell if the play inspired the artist. To me, it looks more like a waste of an otherwise excellent cast! There were just a few moments when the stage came alive, mostly because of the brilliance of Chris Ralph (as Vanja) and Mary Ellis (as Sonja). Balancing perfectly a comedic and realistic side of their respective roles, they manage to create convincing and loveable characters. Beverley Wolfe (as Cassandra), and Teri Loretto-Valentik (as Masha) loose their characters in an attempt to be funny. Sarah Finn as Nina has her moment in the brief scene of reading Vanja’s play about an atom, and Drew Moore gets his chance in the same scene while playing with his cell phone (silent scenes are the hardest to pull off).

The directing needs some adjustments. The pace is very slow, and a very long monologue where Chris Ralph addresses audience instead of talking to those on stage, cuts the show into two unrelated entities. One asks oneself whatever happened to the talented artist who excellently directed other plays (The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine comes to mind). Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a completely disconnected, clownish comedy. Having said that, there are quite a few funny moments. If you like a light comedy (resembling more to a modern Comedia de l’Arte than to the Theatre of Absurd), you might want to see this one.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike plays at the Gladstone to June 5.

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


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