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When most people think of fun things to do on a lazy, summer afternoon, they might choose to sit by the pool or take in a ballgame. However, let me make an unusual recommendation. I doubt many people think watching a play influenced by the works of Anton Chekhov would be the definition of "fun". However, they would be wrong, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike playing at Gretna Theater is a hilarious way to spend the day.

This was my first visit to the Gretna Theater. I chose to go to the opening Thursday, 2pm matinee. The theater is more of an airy pavilion than a traditional theater. You could feel the cool breeze and hear birds chirping. It was a refreshing and interesting environment.

Although the pavillion would never be mistaken for a Broadway theater, both the set and the acting were of an impressively professional quality. The set was a highly detailed and realistic backyard in the Pennsylvania countryside. Everything from the texture of the shingles on the house roof to the past-its- prime lawn furniture enhanced the story and gave the audience a more thorough understanding and appreciation of the characters.

Vanya (Robert Meksin) is a fifty-something year old man man living with his adopted sister, Sonia (Dori Legg). The pair got their theatrical names (along with Masha) from their parents, who were both professors and amateur actors. Rather than tend to their own lives, the two of them stayed behind to take care of their elderly parents. After the death of their parents, the siblings make no effort to move on-no jobs, no spouses, no friends- but each other.

Meksin plays Vanya with warmth and balance. When things get out of hand, he is the peacemaker. He brings humor though sarcasm and understatement. Legg, on the other hand, plays Sonia with anxiety and vulnerability. She has excellent facial expressions and mannerisms that highlight her weirdness and anti-social behavior. The two of them are a fantastic Yin and Yang combination.

Things take a turn for the worse, when the pair's estranged sister and Hollywood leading lady, Masha (Carol Halstead) comes to visit, with her latest boytoy, Spike (Max Falls). Halstead injects great humor in her performance, often at the expense of those around her. She plays the part of a diva, a little bit past her prime, but still trying to convince the world that she "still has it". It is no wonder she gets so upset when she is compared to Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond. Fall's Spike is big and dumb. He is also overly-confident, which makes him a good match for Masha. He spends half the show in his underpants.

Although it is not clear at first, the ultimate purpose of Masha's visit is to tell her siblings that she is selling the family home. This, of course, devastates Vanya and Sonia since they have both sentimental and financial reasons for wanting to stay.

Adding to the mix is Jessica Johnson, who plays Cassandra, the enthusiastic (and potentially psychic) cleaning lady. Johnson is a lot of fun to watch on stage and gets to ham it up with her predictions of gloom and doom. My only question with her performance pertains to her accent. She would slip in and out of a Caribbean accent. It was unclear to me if the character was supposed to be from a different country or if she was American.

Last, but not least, is Grace Atherholt, as Nina. Nina is literally "the sweet girl next door". Atherholt emphasizes the character's youth, innocence, and kindness, which makes her an instant enemy of Masha. Nina represents everything that the Masha is not, and that threatens her. Fortunately, Nina's positivity and enthusiasm takes it all in stride.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a great play about sibling rivalry, sacrifices, and the dangers of longing for the good old days. It is a funny show performed by a talented cast. Come see it at the Gretna Theatre and get some culture and fresh air at the same time. Ticket and more info can be found at their website.

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From This Author Rich Mehrenberg