By James Karas
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a hilarious play by Christopher Durang done exceptional well at the Panasonic Theatre.
Vanya, Sonia and Masha of the title are, of course, characters in Anton Chekhov’s plays. Durang has borrowed them along with Nina, added Cassandra as a nod to Greek tragedy and Spike, a hunk and failed actor, as a gesture to modern trashy entertainment. The result is a funny play with interesting allusions to Chekhov.
Vanya (Steve Sutcliffe) and Sonia (Fiona Reid) live in a farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania and they tell us that they have no lives. The looked after their parents through old age and Alzheimer’s (only his parents really because Sonia was adopted) and now are miserable, broke, bickering and in danger of being thrown out on the street if the house is sold.
The house is owned by sister Masha, the successful actress, who pays all the bills. She arrives with Spike (Luke Humphrey), a toy boy with a sculpted body, the morals of an alley cat and the brains of a moron. He wants to be an actor and so far his success amounts to almost getting a role once.
There is also Cassandra (Audrey Dwyer) who cleans the house but mostly practices what her name and status in Greek mythology dictates: foretelling the dire future without anyone listening to her.
The fine cast delivers superb performances. Fiona Reid, by any standard one of the finest comic actors, excels in the delivery of every line, every gesture and every movement. Her Sonia is touchy, comically bitter, easily riled and just plain funny. She does an amazing imitation of Maggie Smith and you want her on stage for her intonation, the perfect phrasing and her superb timing.
Steven Sutcliffe as the old Vanya has a mellifluous voice that serves him well as the repressed gay and ever-suffering brother of Sonia. At times he cannot do anything right as he tries to go through his miserable life. But he, Sutcliffe that is, can produce laughter with ease and gives a marvelous performance.
Jenifer Dale’s Masha is a successful actress but she is well beyond her best-before date. She reminds one of Norma Desmond, the faded star of Sunset Boulevard who tries desperately to hold on to her past glories. Dale does an excellent job in portraying the shallow, self-centered, egotistical former star whose idiosyncrasies are quite entertaining. This is the Masha from The Three Sisters who wants to go to Moscow.
Audrey Dwyer is given free range as Cassandra. She can scream her prophecies, yell when she feels like it and do all the comic business that an officious servant can perform.
Humphrey as Spike and Ellen Denny as the young and pretty Nina have more limited opportunities for comic shenanigans but no one can complain about their performances.
Much of the comedy of Vanya and Sonia depends on timing, gesture, intonation and motion. Those are largely dependent on the director and Dean Paul Gibson deserves full credit for orchestrating all moves with intelligence and finesse.
The set by Sue LePage consists of the living room of a farmhouse and it is appropriate and becoming.
The Panasonic is a small theatre but for some reason the actors were miked.
If you want a funny, literate and intelligent comedy, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is your ticket.