I’m think this is going to be my schick now. Not researching the shows before I review them. I’ve enjoyed experiencing shows with an unbiased mind. That being said I knew nothing about Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, other than its long ass title, before I entered Vagabond Players. I did know that the names (minus Spike) were in a Chekhov play and I’m familiar with other works by Christopher Durang. That’s something right? Can I get a cookie? Maybe a gold star sticker?
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a show about family and how the choices made in the past impact the actions (or inactions) in the present. Vanya (Mr. Eric C. Stein) and Sonia (Ms. Lynda McClary) were bickering, middle-aged sibling roommates in Bucks County, PA. Sonia was adopted as a little girl by the professor parents of Vanya and his sister Masha (Ms. Holly Pascuillo), a charismatic aging movie star of a sexy thriller movie franchise. Vanya and Sonia have spent the last decade plus of their lives taking care of their elderly parents until their death. They realize that they’ve been so busy as caregivers that they haven’t lived their own lives. Enter Masha, back in town for a party with her young actor ingenue/boy toy Spike (Mr. Lansing O’Leary) in tow. Housekeeper Cassandra (Ms. Rachel Reckling) uses her real (or imagined) second sight to warn the household of impending doom. A young aspiring actress neighbor Nina (Ms. Grace O’Keefe) joins the gang tempting Spike while making Masha insanely jealous. Add cayenne pepper, heat to a simmer, and stir.
What I love about Christopher Durang’s plays, and especially showcased in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike; are the levels of absurdity and normalcy and how they intertwine in the dialogue, the actions and motivations of the characters. That mix of comedy, tenderness, confusion and self deprivation was fun to watch. Because this was an ensemble cast I’m going to spend some time on each of the six actors because I can, and they deserve it.
Vanya: Mr. Eric C. Stein played Vanya with a quiet intensity which was consistent throughout, but he showed emotional range during his monologue in the second act. It was lovely to watch his character reminisce about the past. Like a delicate flower, the performance blossomed with hints of vulnerability, humor, and anger. The best kind of theater is when you can feel what the author has written and Mr. Stein did just that.
Sonia: Ms. Lynda McClary’s comedic timing was impeccable. She was grumpy, emotional, complicated, confusing, and messy. She was most of us on a random Thursday. The way Ms. McClary played Sonia’s awkwardness and sweetness, just under a slightly decaying outside, made her a three-dimensional character that jumped off of the pages of the Christopher Durang script.
Masha: Not only was Ms. Holly Pascuillo’s comedic timing well executed, but she was every bit the spoiled, self-important, entitled movie star diva. She was dripping with privilege the moment she entered the set and it was glorious. Ms. Pascuillo moved like someone who took themselves too seriously and drank their own bathwater. She effortlessly displayed how people cover up their true feelings by overcompensating, and was best in both the comedic moments and in the emotionally vulnerable ones. I think it helped that Ms. Pascuillo had played Masha previously as I read in the program and it showed. She was Masha to the core.
Spike: As an aspiring actor aka Masha’s young arm candy, Mr. Lansing O’Leary played Spike as dumb, simple, and hot. It’s hard to play dumb, and Mr. O’Leary did so with gusto, reckless abandon, and heart. He went to places I was not expecting and embodied the characters narcissistic tendencies. It also didn’t hurt that he was in various stages of dress throughout the show. I mean, he was playing arm candy after all.
Cassandra: As a person of color I really didn’t enjoy how Cassandra was written in the play. Several characters told her to shut up most of the time, she played the help, and she practiced voodoo. Really? Voodoo? The character felt very one-note and roughly stretched. Towards the end of the play the characters started to appreciate her merits, but the character was already lost to me. It was the character I didn’t care for, not the performance of Ms. Rachel Reckling. Who did wonderfully might I add. Ms. Reckling was animated and sly and I could see her eye rolls from the back of the theater everytime the siblings barked at her. There was AT-TI-TUDE in Cassandra’s lines and Ms. Reckling was giving me all of the sass. “Beware of Hootie pie!” Who the fuck names someone or something Hootie pie? Anyway, you tried to warn them the whole time and it took them forever to believe you Cassandra. Yaass sister girl, tell those white folks what’s up. Drop some knowledge!
Nina: Ms. Grace O’Keefe was every bit the young, bubbly, naive, wanna be actress. The character was almost syrupy sweet and gave me a toothache. I thought Ms. O’Keefe played her almost a little too on the nose. Nina was almost a caricature of herself. But maybe that was the point? Either way Ms. O’Keefe was effervescent in the role and I swear she glowed on stage.
The costumes were beautiful, bold, and captured the personalities and neurosis of the characters extraordinary well. I especially liked the bright colors used in Masha’s clothing (that red jumpsuit was divine!) and how she clashed with the drab, plain colors of her siblings. No one was credited in the program, so I will leave my praise right here in case someone wants to claim it. The “fairy tale character costumes” were also expertly done and sourced by Mary Bova at A.T. Jones & Sons. The set, a farmhouse in PA, had painted walls of stone and wood, wicker furniture, potted plants, and wall art. Mr. Roy Steinman did a phenomenal job of designing this world and Mr. Moe Conn and Mr. Jay Demarco did a bang up job of constructing the stage to look like a cozy room with several rooms implied backstage. It looked exactly like I’d expect a sunroom of upper middle class Pennsylvanian estate to look like. Rustic yet classy. Director Mr. Steve Goldklang did an excellent job casting this play. Each actor felt like they were born to play their parts. His use of staging punctuated the emotions portrayed and every movement had a motivation and reason behind it. I felt the emotional distance between the siblings and the quiet moments spoke just as loudly as the witty comedic dialogue. The scenes were well framed both physically and emotionally. Everyone and everything had a place. It was just so.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike had layers. It was dramatic, funny and introspective. Isn’t that life though? We are constantly laughing and yelling at ourselves trying to figure out what we want and who we are. Sometimes we ask the past questions only to find the answers in the present. We gotta dust ourselves off, pull ourselves together and jump into the unknown. Scary right? If only we had Cassandra to warn us about the future.
Should I stay or should I go? Go see this play and bring your sibling. Bonus points if you are middle-aged as this show plays better to older audiences. Laugh and cringe at Christopher Durang’s script and reveal in the high quality performances by the cast. Vagabonds Players presented an engaging, fun, and endearing show. Everything from the set, to the acting, to the costumes were professional, interesting and full of life. Family, heart, loud, messy, awkward, sweet, energy, and stillness. That was Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike in so few words. And don’t forget: Beware of Hootie Pie! (Z)
Now through May 6th Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.