BWW Review: VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE at Sioux Empire Community Theatre
For a show about regret, the actors were certainly having a ball. "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike", Christopher Durang's satirical Chekhov-ian play, opens this Friday at the Sioux Empire Community Theatre. The play, which Durang described as a "comic blender" of Chekhov themes and characters, explores the lives of three depressed and neurotic siblings, though they're not all sisters: Sonia, Vanya and Masha. Sonia (played by Sonja Niles) and Vanya (Dick Koch) live in their late parents' dilapidated New England house. Since neither of them work, they are supported by Masha, their famous actor sister. When Masha (Rae Morlan) returns home with her young boyfriend, Spike, the siblings have to confront their disappointing lives to hilarious effect.
There is a lot to enjoy in this production regardless of your familiarity with Chekhov. But most of the depth of the show - the references to cherry orchards, the play within the play - is based on your knowledge of the Russian playwright. Basically, this is at its heart a show for theatre nerds.
But as I mentioned above, there are aspects of the show easily accessible to all, and the actors are ready to serve those moments to you on a silver platter. From the moment the lights came up to expose the helpless Sonia and Vanya, the actors tore through the script like neurotic tornadoes. Their enthusiasm made for some belly laugh-inducing moments (see: Sonia announcing she is a wild turkey, Vanya yelling about stamps.)
Director Fred Reiner seems to have envisioned this show as a "Noises Off" style slapstick comedy. Niles and Morlan were especially committed to this ideal. But that commitment also meant that these ladies' strongest moments were monologues as opposed to relationship building between characters. Morlan, in particular, was at her best when descending down a mental rabbit hole of oblivious self-involvement.
Niles was insanely funny whenever she unleashed her rage upon the stage, although it was difficult to imagine someone that fiery and full of life staying cooped up in the house for so long. In fact, my favorite moment of hers was a quiet phone call in the second act. Though some of the script's subtlety was lost in their energetic portrayal, this team of actors made it simply impossible not to love the screwed up characters they portrayed onstage.
Speaking of love: the set. I was shocked to read that the set designer was a college student, Ann Holstein. Holstein clearly has bright things in her future. The set, an outdoor view of the siblings' old New England home, was a spectacular example of the classics in decline. The house's wood and stone exterior was offset by dreary patterned chairs. Director Reiner made some great staging decisions, especially a precisely blocked "Entourage 2" audition involving Masha's young studly boyfriend, played by Brandon Tople.
I had a great time at "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" on Wednesday night. The rest of the audience certainly seemed to have a great time. If you're looking for a great time (and honestly, who isn't?), venture over to the Sioux Empire Community Theatre from February 24th through March 5th. And don't forget your copy of "The Seagull" to check out during intermission.