Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Comedy. Written by Christopher Durang. Directed by Linda Piccone. Palo Alto Players, Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Paolo Alto, CA.
Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning comedy is delightfully brought to life by a fine ensemble cast under the direction of Linda Piccone. With its skillful blend of melancholic Chekhovian themes and absurdist humor, VSM&S tells the tale of Vanya and his step-sister Sonia, who waste their lives living with regrets, interrupted comically by the disturbing prophecies of their housekeeper Cassandra. Walter Mayes is wonderful as the gay Vanya, a combination of peacekeeper and uppity annoyance. Patricia Tyler’s Sonia is a bitter pill, bemoaning her lot in life and constantly reminding everyone that’s she’s the adopted sister. To this mix comes Masha, the movie-star sister, played with regal self-importance by Judith Miller, and her May-December boy toy Spike, played with laughable buffoonery by Jimmy Mason.
Durang names his characters from Chekhov plays, there’s lots of insecurity and resentments afoot and plenty of mention and indecision of whether the nine cherry trees on the property can be considered an orchard. Once the players are all assembled, the ensuing mayhem plays like a wild George Cukor or Ernst Lubitsch screwball comedy. Damaris Devito as Cassandra and Jimmy Mason as Spike add the wild, over-the-top comic elements.
When Masha decides to sell the family home, dissension and sibling rivalries are exposed. You don’t have to be a Chekhov expert to relate to these sad human beings, each caught up in their insular motional turmoil’s. Vanya is turned on by Spike, Sonia needs to get a life, any life, Masha’s boy toy falls for the young neighbor Nina (Kelsey Erhart) and Cassandra uses her voodoo doll to influence affairs. It’s all smartly written and wonderfully acted.
There is some redemption in the play’s finale. Masha dumps the philandering Spike, decides not to sell the home, and realizes there is opportunity to her stalled career. Vanya’s impassioned tirade against the dehumanization of modern society, sparked by Spike’s rude texting during the reading of his very Chekhovian play, brings a peace to his soul. Sonia, meets a man at a costume party while hilariously impersonating Maggie Smith on her way to the Oscars, sees a new possibility in a simple request for a date. The resolutions are subtle, but show movement away from the inertia that plagues the central characters. Piccone and her actors deftly take us through the drudgery of complacency to the fine wisp of optimism and hope.
Performances June 11 through June 26. www.players.org 650.329.0891