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BWW Reviews: VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE at Arena Stage

You have to love a show that makes you laugh the next day or two days after you see it. You also have to feel guilty when you're laughing at the state of the characters you watched, and how utterly dysfunctional they are. "I'm nothing like that," you tell yourself.

And yet, as you keep thinking about said production, you relate to parts of it. We've all been lonely, felt too old for something or wondered if our decisions will haunt us permanently. As a character in Arena Stage's current production of VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE notes, "if everyone took antidepressants, Chekhov would have nothing to write about."

Arena Stage's latest production comes as one of several recent Chekhov or Chekhov-inspired productions, and another from director AARON POSNER, who knows the works quite well. Posner recently directed both STUPID FUCKING BIRD and the remount at Woolly Mammoth, and has now taken on Christopher Durang's Tony award winning play.

The plot revolves around three siblings: neurotic Vanya (ERIC HISSOM) and adopted, whining Sonia (SHERRI L. EDELEN), who have been living in their house their whole lives, and Masha (GRACE GONGLEWSKI), a somewhat successful and incredibly narcissistic actress who left to be in movies and travel the world. When Masha returns for a visit with her new idiot boy toy Spike, (JEFFERSON FARBER) and meets young aspiring actress Nina (RACHEL ESTHER TATE), the three siblings are forced to look at the problems they've had for years, some more regularly vocalized than others. Add in their potentially psychic, sassy cleaning lady Cassandra (JESSICA FRANCES DUKES), and you get a ridiculous amount of fun.

Christopher Durang's script is masterful at making Chekhov fit into the modern world. He has created characters who are simultaneously layered and simple, who revel in the tiniest things, even when they shouldn't. He balances heartfelt themes of feeling forgotten and wasted years with hilarious guffaws, and it all works. Vanya and Sonia, even when they're slightly happier in a moment, have breaks where they stare out the window, clearly in quiet, mental crisis, and you remember that yes, this is from Russian literature.

While the show is not a short one, that's kind of a point within it. A beautifully penned monologue towards the end ties everything together, and really, truly makes you think about your own habits and choices in modern life. Posner directs this script incredibly well, letting his actors shine in the ludicrous yet slightly understandable personalities they embody. It is a physical show, and, because it is in the round, one where everyone out there is on display at all times.

He has an incredible ensemble to handle this. Hissom gives both neuroses and missed memories to Vanya, making him the character you root for the most. Edelen's pathetic Sonia builds from whiny to lonely, and you love her all the while. Gonglewski makes Masha what she wants to be at all times, the center of attention, casting a judgmental eye over all she can.

Farber is complete bro, and makes the younger ones of the audience feel a little uncomfortable with similar habits. Tate as Nina is an adorable nymph, giving her such happiness in humiliation that you find both silly and admirable. And Dukes as Cassandra is unquestionably hysterical. Her physical, sweeping prophecies and Greek monologues are the highlight, and she looks like she's loving it.

Praise must also be given to Set Designer DANIEL CONWAY, who creates a house environment with overhanging shingled roof pieces and wicker furniture that makes you feel like you're watching from a windowsill. Costume Designer PALOMA YOUNG dresses all actors with exactly what you think they would wear, and her costume party creations are fantastically fun.

For huge laughs, a script that balances hilarity and , and an ensemble that is incredibly synced, go see VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE. You will love every moment of it. And hopefully you'll keep laughing days later.

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE runs at Arena Stage through May 3rd. For more information, visit the production page. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.


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From This Author Heather Nadolny