BWW Reviews: VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE at Center Stage - What a Hoot!
VANYA and SONIA and MASHA and SPIKE by the acclaimed director Christopher Durang was initially commissioned by Princeton, New Jersey's McCarter Theatre and later moved to Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater where under the direction of Nicholas Martin (who just passed away this week), it received the Tony Award for Best Play in 2013 starring David Hyde Pierce and Sigourney Weaver. I thought maybe Durang got the idea of the title of the play from the 1969 Paul Mazursky film "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice".
Durang is not your typical playwright. His comedies are little eclectical. I still recall my first Durang play, THE MARRIAGE OF BETTE AND BOO at Center Stage in 1987, directed by Artistic Director Stan Wojewodski, Jr. I'm a fan.
And if you haven't seen a Durang play, you too may become a fan after you've seen the hysterical, clever, funny, yet poignant VSMS running until May 25, 2014 at Center Stage. This is a co-production with the Kansas City Repertory Theatre and is directed by their wonderful Artistic Director, Eric Rosen. Three members of that production have made the tranistion to Baltimore: Barbara Walsh as "Sonia" (Walsh a native from Maryland was so wonderful in the Center Stage production of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC), Zachary Andrews as "Spike" and Emily Peterson as "Nina". The three additions to this production are Bruce Randolph Nelson as "Vanya", Kerry Warren as "Cassandra" and Susan Rome as "Masha".
Do the names Vanya, Sonia, and Masha sound familiar? Yes, they all are inspired by Chechov plays and there are many references to the great Russian playwright. It's very clever and fun to look for the clues. The action takes place in a country house in Bucks County Pennsylvania (the actual home of the playwright) in a lovely room beautifully designed by Donald Eastman) which overlooks a lake.
The play opens with Vanya (the amazing Nelson) reading while sipping his morning coffee which is normally provided by his adopted Sonya (the talented Walsh) who normally has this responsibility. It is quite clear that Sonya may be bi-polar after you see her reaction to Vanya's criticism of her coffee acumen. They spend their time searching for birds flying over the water. Their names were given to them by their professor parents who were both active in local Bucks County community theater. (There were two faded posters I noticed on stage from the Bucks County Playhouse.)
Both Sonia and Vanya have remained alone in the house after caring for their ailing parents until they passed way from dementia. Vanya 's sister Masha (the superb Susan Rome) during this period has been become a movie star of some sort, traveled the world, been married five times, and provides for both Vanya and Sonia's existance and the mortgage.
Masha who is 42 arrives at the manse accompanied by her 29 year-old boy-toy Spike (played by the well-built Zachary Andrews). She is wearing a gorgeous white outfit which flows in the wind (great work by Costume Desiger Melissa Torchia). She announces that her siblings have been invited to a costume ball thanks to her but I will not disclose what her plans for the costumes are. The hint I will give it has something to do with a Walt Disney movie.
When Spike discovers the pond through the windows, like a young juvenile, he decides to go for a swim, immediately disrobes (he has no swim suit) and heads to the water in his shorts. Masha soon discovers he has met a young female in the water, a young aspiring actress named Nina (the lovely Emily Peterson who happens to have the two biggest dimples ever seen on stage) who returns to the house with Spike. One can see the jealousy of Masha immediately.
And then there's the housekeeper, Cassandra (the powerful Kerry Warren), who does not hesitate when she enters a room to recite orations from various plays and knows about voodoo. Like I mentioned above, Durang's plays are a little eclectic.
Both Vanya and Sonia are surprised and horrified to hear that Masha has plans to sell the family home since her royalites from films have slowed. Cassandra used her voodoo expertise in an attempt to halt Masha's plans.
Act II begins after the costume party. When Nina hears about a play Vanya has written, she begins to read it aloud. While this occurs, Vanya notices Spike on his cell phone and announces his displeasure immediately with an amazing soliliquy. He rants about modern technology like email and texting versus those halcyon days of yore in the 1950's when we watched Ed Sullivan, Howdy Doody, Ozzie and Harriet (there really weren't any
"adventures" of Ozzie and Harriet), Perry Como, I Love Lucy, Davy Crockett, Annette Funicello, Haley Mills in "The Parent Trap" "Old Yellow" with Tommy Kirk, and when one had to LICK postage stamps. One could tell the age of the audience by the constant laughter during this scene and Nelson was given a much-deserved ovation.
Masha soon realizes that Spike is after Nina and that family is all-important. What a great message.
I must applaud Center Stage Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah for adding this great play to the season.
Next up is another comedy WILD WITH HAPPY by Colman Domingo (a recent smash hit at New York's Public Theatre) running May 28 to June 29.
For tickets, call 410-332-0033 or by visiting www.centerstage.org.
I would like to dedicate this review in memory of Director Nicholas Martin who was nominated for a Tony Award for VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE. I happened to meet Martin at the Williamstown Theatre Festival where in 1999 he directed a wonderful production of CAMINO REAL by Tennessee Williams which starred Ethan Hawke, Blair Brown, and Hope Davis. My daughter Britt was a member of the cast. Martin was an accomplished director and a lovely individual. Friday night the lights on Broadway were dimmed in his honor. He will be greatly missed.