BWW Review: VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE IS DARK NEUROTIC COMEDY at West Coast Players
Under the direction of Donna Donnelly at West Coast Players, VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE takes place in the family's estate and introduces us to whiny, middle-aged siblings, adopted daughter, Sonia (Janice Creneti) and biological son, Vanya (Thom Jay) who were left to take care of their ailing and now deceased parents.
At first I thought they were husband and bipolar wife on the verge of divorce, but it was revealed they were the caretakers of academic parents who named their children after characters in Anton Chekhov plays and were peculiarly devoted to community theatre. The parents became victims of Alzheimer's and the two siblings never moved on to leave their estate when their parents died.
The stagnant pair have been existed drinking their morning coffee and afternoon tea, eating twinkies, reading the paper, watching the blue herons on the lake and basically bickering over nothing to fill the emptiness that is their lives. In a nod to Chekhov, Sonia argues with her brother whether 9 or 10 cherry trees on the property constitutes a cherry orchard. The acting was good, but I didn't find myself endeared to either of Christopher Durang's flawed characters.
In contrast, their sister Masha (SuzAnne Delaney) has been traipsing across the world as a sexy horror movie queen, bankrolling the estate and her siblings' lives or lack thereof, giving them no reason to change or better themselves. When she comes home for an unexpected visit with her boy-toy in tow with plans to sell the family home, Masha wreaks havoc.
Suzanne is delightful as the overdramatic, narcissistic actress who cannot tolerate being out of the spotlight, whose fame came from a horror movie series "The Sexy Killer." At one point, Masha makes a joke at her own expense, revealing insecurities, suggesting she is like Norma Desmond, the delusional self-absorbed has-been actress in "Sunset Boulevard."
Drew Smith is thoroughly entertaining as the gorgeous millennial character Spike who could have maybe be cast in "Entourage 2," who only cares about being adored, working out, texting, being adored, stripping to his underwear, and- well- being adored. His reverse striptease made me literally laugh out loud.
Yet it is two smaller roles that completely blew me away.
A standout performance by Cherie B. Albury as Cassandra, the voodoo psychic housekeeper, harbinger of assorted doom and gloom, drives the action and adds a dimension that the other characters lacked. Cherie reminded of Carole Burnett if she were a cleaning lady and a soothsayer. I absolutely adored this character and looked forward to every time she took to the stage - whether peeking through a window or stabbing a voodoo doll.
Newcomer to West Coast Players, Rebecca Hamburg plays an aspiring actress and visiting neighbor, Nina. She is a breath of fresh air in the stagnant house who catches Spike's eye and causes Masha's jealousy. Nina's bubbliness and enthusiasm are contagious and she is the perfect high-energy, kinetic anthesis needed to the other title-named characters.
The first act is good, but it is the second act that is superb.
It is Vanya that has most of the best lines, including a monologue when Spike is rudely only half-listening to his play and texting. It is a social commentary that almost feels part of a different show, noticeably had both the actresses on stage and audience tearing up as he rails against change, technology, separate lives and disconnection caused by no shared memories anymore- "We licked postage stamps."
This scene was both mine and the cast's favorite.
Sonia's portrayal of the Snow White's Evil Queen, imagined with a fake accent as Dame Maggie Smith on her way to the Oscars was brilliant. Her conversation on the telephone, hesitant to use her normal voice made me actually see a different side of her character and I liked this softened then empowered version of her.
In contrast to millions who love his writing, I've decided that I'm not a fan of Durang's style of dialogue in this play. I don't like watching a play and feel like I'm watching a play. His wordsmithing at times felt stilted and disconnected, much like Chekhov's works. That being said, it has nothing to do with the acting. The cast in this 2013 Tony winner for best play were utterly fantastic in their roles and if you have a chance, you should definitely go see the show running through May 7.