BWW Review: VANYA & SONIA & MASHA & SPIKE at Mile Square Theatre Hoboken
Solid slate and aging wicker. Steadily steely habits and youthful upstarts. Family resentment and aspiration. All are the visuals and themes of Mile Square Theater's production of Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. The play is an humorous take on family dynamics and the lingering resentment, full of literary references, absurd scenarios, and poignant reflections, and analyzing a person's basic desire to find meaning in their life.
Siblings Sonia (Barbara Pitts) and Vanya (CHRIS O'CONNOR) share a lovely but aging home surrounded by a lake and trees in Bucks County. They've taken care of their parents, now deceased, and rarely leave the home. Their movie actress sister Masha (ANNIE MCADAMS) rarely visits but sends money to cover all the expenses. Latent resentments and unsettled grievances are brought to the surface when Masha visits with a younger paramour Spike (JONAH ROBINSON), invited her siblings to a costumer party, while also dropping the bomb of selling the home she's been financially maintaining from under her siblings.
Matthew J. Fick's set crafts a home of slate covered with ivy and tile floor adorned with aging wicker furniture. It's a realistically apt setting for the grounded absurdity of director Mark Cirnigliaro's production. Cirnigliaro sets a languid pace, but each actor is so grounded and assured in their characters, the humor and pathos abounds.
The pleasures of this piece are the opportunities for the actors to carry on royally, especially when they portray their anxieties- Masha fears the onset of middle age and Sonia, who has never had a social life, fears being alone. Sonia and Vanya's psychic housekeeper Cassandra (ANDREA BELLAMORE) wishes to be regarded seriously with her not altogether prescient observations.
Vanya, Sonia, and Masha's parents were professors and named them after characters from the works of famous author, Anton Chekhov. But the names are not the only thing borrowed from Chekhov. There are many details incorporated into the story. There is a (aspiring) cherry orchard, an obscure mini play within the play, and a young naïve aspiring actress. There are also more blatant references to the playwright in the script. One doesn't need to be familiar with the works of Chekhov to be able to appreciate the play, though. Durang's characters are fully realized and solely exist in the realm of his story.
If Sonia's self-pity, Vanya's good-natured anachronism, Masha's diva attitude, or Cassandra's flailing predictions aren't enough, the home becomes even more crowded and tense when underwear only clad Spike draws in Nina (ANNETTE HAMMOND), a neighbor to Vanya and Sonia and aspiring young actress/Masha super-fan. Antics ensue, and each character is forced to deal with his or her place in world and their own self-worth. I don't want to give away too much, but the show features several oddities including Disney-inspired party costumes, a voodoo doll, and a modernist monologue as delivered by a molecule.
The play is a comedy at heart, laced with sentiment. Hammond plays an endearing Nina, creating natural tension and jealousy between Masha and Spike when the young lover expresses interest in the more youthful woman. Hammond and O'Connor develop a sweet, genuine bond affectionately refers to him as Uncle Vanya (note yet another Chekhov reference).
McAdams plays the starlet as we've been conditioned to expect someone of her popularity to act: brash, self-centric, and desperate for all eyes to be focused on her. And yet, McAdams doesn't just leave Masha with that single dimension. She easily shifts gears to vent her frustration at being the sole provider for her family, peppering her dialogue with true worry over not making as much money as she used to and angst over her rocky romantic life. Her portrayal ably demonstrates that beneath the actor's life and Hollywood glitz lays a real and sincere person.
Robinson's performance shines a light on the vanity of much of today's youth and the culture in which they are being raised.
Bellamore was a blessing to the production and truly funny. Any time she came on stage, she brought laughter with her. Her physicality gets turned up to 11 with every prediction her character has, making it legitimately believable that the other characters dismiss her prophecies until it is too late.
The heart of the show lies in Pitts' Sonia. At once gracefully prowling the stage as she masquerades as Maggie Smith playing the Evil Queen in Snow White, a multilayered theatrical impersonation, while also gently stewing in frustration of adoption and a life imperfectly led. It's a glowing realistic portrayal. There's a delicate anguish to O'Connor's portrayal of Vanya, his bookish and theoretically gay man, but when he is asked to deliver a rampaging monologue near the end of the play, a dizzying paean to all that has been lost in his lifetime (black-and-white television with only a few channels, postage stamps that must be licked, Annette Funicello as a puberty-tickling Mouseketeer), boy, does he run with it.
Robinson's Spike is more than just a teasing visual gag, however. He has some of the best lines in the play, and the actor fully maximizes the wit of Spike's unwittingly funny rejoinders.
What makes the zaniness so memorable is the way the inescapably realistic family feelings of rage, regret and resentment anchoring the humor. After Sonia angrily reminds Masha that she didn't cry once at the funerals of their parents, Masha rejoinds, "I hide my feelings" - a quintessential Durang irony and a gift for an actor with McAdam's comic flair.
The production runs through October 7th. For more information on Mile Square Theatre, please visit https://www.milesquaretheatre.org/.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mile Square Theatre