BWW Review: Chekhov on the Delaware: Perfectly Calibrated Durang Play Opens Good Theater's 15th Season
During the first act of Christopher Durang's Tony award-winning 2013 play, Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike, the characters muse that "if everyone were on anti-depressants, there would be no Chekhov." Happily for Portland theatre goers, it seems that none of the six colorful, endearing, eccentric personages in Durang's contemporary comedy appears to be on any medication. Rather they squabble and moan and rant about their lives in absurdly clever and humorous dialogue as they struggle to find some happiness in the human bonds which connect them.
Drawing from Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard, and The Seagull, and setting his story in Bucks County, PA, playwright Durang loosely conflates characters and situations, retools their context, and draws subtle irony from the allusions to the great Russian dramatist, at the same time that V&S&M&S stands alone on its own merits as a bittersweet comedy of manners. Durang mines the humor in the misery, the quirkiness in the antics, and the underlying nostalgia for a simpler time and simpler, enduring values of love and human connection. His dialogue is clever, spiky, often touching; his sense of pacing and flow honor the mésure of Chekhov while flirting with a kind of breathless zaniness.
Director Brian P. Allen creates a production that is perfectly calibrated in tone, rhythm, and emotional impact. Among Allen's many talents is his ability to scale a play perfectly to the intimacy of the Good Theater's space and to the delicate emotional equilibrium contained in the drama. Here he balances wistfulness and wackiness, while creating an aura of empathy for the characters and their dilemmas. In as complex and sophisticated a work as V&S&M&S, his sense of pacing is fluid, evoking both the stasis of Chekhov and the relentless of modern time as it marches on.
Celebrating their 15th anniversary season, the Good Theater has created a relatively lavish production for Durang's play. Craig Robinson's (Cheryl Dolan, scenic artist) lovely interior/exterior of a Bucks County home with its elaborate stonework and greenery by John Sundling is meticulously dressed with country elegance. Iain Odlin lights the production with an embracing warmth, and Justin Cote contributes the characterful costumes, especially amusing in the costume party sequence. Steve Underwood adds the evocative sound design with its classical piano interludes.
The six-person cast works as a close-knit ensemble. Laura Houck captures both the mournful self-pity and bitterness, as well as the almost childlike innocence and hope of the spinster sister Sonia. Paul Haley makes her gay brother Vanya a terse, gloomy, subdued man until his Act II outburst in which Vanya summons all the passion he has repressed to rant about the pitfalls of modern life where human connection seem to be subsumed - thereby giving the extended soliloquy greater punch. Lisa Stathoplos inhabits the juicy role of the narcissistic actress sister Masha with brio, managing to capture her mercurial moods and manically unstable behavior with great naturalness. Marshall Taylor Thurman paints her young "boy toy" Spike as charmingly conceited, shamelessly studish, and yet, somehow, winning. As the aspiring ingénue actress Nina, Meredith Lamothe creates an original take on the ditsy blonde, delivering an hysterical monologue fro'sm Vanya's play (take-off on The Seagull) in the final act. Noelle LuSane romps through the animated role of the Caribbean maid, Cassandra, who believes herself a psychic, and whose uncanny prophecies do seem to shape the play's actions.
The Portland premiere of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike appropriately begins the Good Theater's anniversary season on a high note, taking up where last year's challenging programming left off. Executive/Artistic Director Brian P. Allen and his creative team have every reason to be proud of the level of excellence they consistently bring to the company, their daring repertoire, and their ability to entertain at a very high level of sophistication.
Photos courtesy of the Good Theater, Steve Underwood, photographer
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs from October 19- November 20, 2016 at the Good Theater, 76 Congress St., Portland, ME www.goodtheater.com 207-885-5883