Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike at Main Stage West, Sebastopol CA
Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo
Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
Photos by Eric Chazankin
Of Hootie Pies and Voodoo Dolls in Bucks County, PA
Have no fear. This crisp and wickedly funny homage to the revered Russian writer Anton Chekhov, by American playwright Christopher Durang, may be filled with references to themes in Chekhov’s work, but they are so cleverly interwoven into the story that you don’t even have to know Chekhov to enjoy the fun. And if you do, all the better. What’s more, it’s fresh. “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” just opened on Broadway last year and won the Tony Award for Best Play.
Main Stage West presents an outstanding ensemble piece that draws many a chuckle. The central characters, Vanya, Sonia and Masha, are siblings whose late parents were Chekhov devotees and named them accordingly. Their lives have unfolded in incredibly Chekhovian ways (including a cherry orchard which may not be a cherry orchard) with a little Greek tragedy is thrown in for good measure.
Vanya (Eric Thompson) and Sonia (Madeleine Ashe) have reached middle age existing in a sort of bubble. They spent most of their lives caring for their parents, who have recently died. Their jet-setting sister Masha (Elly Lichenstein) has lived at the opposite extreme – she’s a glamorous movie star whose fame and fortune has supported her family. Now she’s swooped in from the coast with her much-younger boyfriend Spike (Tyler Costin), to remind everyone just how wonderful and important she is. All four are a steaming mass of insecurities. Complicating matters further is a star-struck lovely young neighbor Nina (Ivy Rose Miller). Then the bell of doom sounds when their clairvoyant housekeeper Cassandra (Naomi Sample) delivers a solemn proclamation: beware of Hootie Pie.
As if that weren’t enough, Vanya has been secretly writing a play over the years, a post-apocalyptic piece featuring talking molecules. The inevitable play-reading leads to a hilariously rambling stream-of-consciousness trip down memory lane by Vanya, reflecting bittersweet annoyance with cultural changes over the past 50 years and longing for the good old days of Howdy Doody. “We used to lick postage stamps!” he exclaims, as if that’s the key to solving all the problems in the world today.
Thompson offers an excellent rendition of an aging, frustrated gay man pining for what he can’t have. Lichenstein shows remarkable versatility and is always a pleasant surprise, displaying real star power through Masha’s magnificent self-obsession. Sample is a real gem, a sparkling centerpiece of the show. The way her Cassandra uses voodoo on Masha is one of the most hilarious scenes in the play. But the real revelation is that Ashe’s Sonia ends up as the life of the party by being someone else. If Masha is the wicked stepsister (disguised as Snow White), then Sonia is Cinderella (disguised as Dame Maggie Smith), and she may find her prince charming after all.
Costin as Spike is a departure from the typical casting for this role. Instead of a buffed-up beefcake, Spike’s wiry physique and relentless narcissism makes him seem all the more comical, and he plays it to the hilt. Miller as Nina gives a guileless, almost ethereal performance, and through her childlike innocence helps the unhappy siblings see the light.
Sharp ensemble directing is by Sheri Lee Miller, with subtle details in movements and staging that serve as fluid support for the zany antics. The energy level drags a bit in some spots during the play-reading scene but loses none of its comic irony. As always, there’s an excellent set by David Lear, with soft pastels used in the scenic design that contrast nicely with the acerbic humor. Truly an ideal showcase for some of the best talent in Sonoma County, this is a very funny, original and unique production.
When: Now through November 16, 2014
8:00 p.m Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays
5:00 p.m. Sundays
Tickets $15 to $25
Where: Main Stage West
104 North Main Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472