BWW Reviews: VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE Will All Make You Laugh at Portland Center Stage

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The first thing you will notice when you walk into Portland Center Stage to see Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is the set. Daniel Meeker has created a Pennsylvania country house so gorgeous - and so homey - that you will immediately want to move in and start living there. The lighting throughout is also by Mr. Meeker, and it is delicately handled, but the set is so beautiful you wonder if the play can live up to it.

Thankfully, it does. Vanya is Christopher Durang's modern-day version of a Chekhov play. Siblings Vanya and Sonya, now in their fifties, live in the house their theater-minded parents left behind, their lives having been spent caring for said parents. Neither has held a job or done much with their time on earth. They're supported by their movie-star sister Masha, who drops by for a visit, her latest boy toy (Spike) in tow. This being a Durang play, the characters have offbeat opinions about everything under the sun, but there's anger and regret underneath the quips, and eventually the deeper emotions come to the surface. Vanya is less antic than many of Durang's well-known farces; the country-house atmosphere mellows things out a bit. But it's still the funniest play in town.

Director Rose Riordan is a master of mood here. The play begins in a contemplative mode, Vanya and Sonia looking out at a nearby lake and musing about a blue heron, but before long coffee cups are being flung, and the hosuekeeper, Cassandra (who lives up to her name), arrives with her own complaints. The tone has to be maintained - yes, the play is hilarious, and the characters are self-involved and shortsighted - but if that undercurrent of sadness and contemplation ever completely disappears, you'd be left with a sour sitcom. Riordan never lets that happen, and neither does her cast.

Andrew Sellon, as Vanya, has the peacemaker role for most of the play, reacting to his more garrulous sisters and their guests until he finally explodes in a wonderful monologue about modern society. Sometimes the character seems like a mouthpiece for Durang's feelings about life in the 21st century, but Sellon has the charm and the drive to keep him from becoming too obstreperous. He is partnered well by Sharonlee McLean as Sonia, who never misses an opportunity to remind those around her how miserable and dull her life is; she can only become sociable when she's doing a Maggie Smith impersonation.

Carol Halstead's Masha is a fine comic creation, though she doesn't have the depth or yearning of the other siblings. She's a Hollywood creation, shallow and proud of it, dropping names and referring to her films and theater work like a walking IMDB page. Yet she too has aches, and when she and Sonia stop arguing and join in misery, the wailing is hilarious.

The smaller roles are equally well acted. Olivia Negron as Cassandra is handed malapropisms, mixed metaphors, and a lot of dialogue that seems to be about Greek tragedies but generally ends up somewhere else, and she never loses her way. Her character seems to have psychic abilities, and her solo moment with a voodoo doll is inspired clowning. Eden Malyn plays Nina, a neighbor who wants to be an actress, and she's delightfully silly despite using a cartoonish voice; the character's sweetness comes through even when she's playing a molecule. (Don't ask.)

The surprise is Nick Ballard as Spike. At first he seems to be there just because he's gorgeous; the character strips to his underwear almost immediately upon entering the country house, and spends a great deal of time wearing very little. Ballard is very talented at kidding his character's beauty; he keeps making physical contact with Vanya (who is gay) and sticking his rear out toward the audience. He also finds amusing ways of reacting to the older characters' complaints.

The middle of the play takes place before and after a costume party, and Mike Floyd's costumes are so perfect here that they deserve their own paragraph. Masha comes out as Snow White, with Vanya and Nina as two of the dwarfs and Spike as Prince Charming, and Sonia counters in a sparkly gown that completely transforms her. The combination of Disney outfits with these Chekhovian characters is hilariously right, and Floyd's costumes for the other scenes are also perfect.

At the end, the siblings find themselves looking out at the herons again. Their situation is different than it was at the beginning...or is it? No matter what, you will laugh your head off at the wild goings-on, but (especially if you're middle-aged or thereabouts) you'll also have something to think about. And you're really, really going to want to live in that house. I swear.



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From This Author Patrick Brassell

Patrick Brassell is the author of five published novels and five produced plays. He has directed, produced, and designed sound for about fifty theater productions, (read more...)