It is thought that to enjoy Broadway plays one must partake in the dramatic arts in some way, shape, or form. This can be especially true wherever Russian author and physician Anton Chekhov is concerned. Yet budding theater enthusiasts need not despair.
Christopher Durang’s Broadway play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike breaks past the fourth wall with razor sharp humor and disarming realism.
Set in present-day Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Vanya (David Klane) and his adopted sister Sonia (Laurel Moglen) spend their days together sipping lukewarm coffee while watching the sparse wildlife outside the living room window. Mornings consist of aimless bickering and pity parties fueled by the the overwhelming realization that they are middle-aged, single, jobless, and spent the better half of their lives caring for their now deceased parents.
One morning, as plain and indiscernible as the others, Vanya and Sonia notice that the blue heron that frequents the pond in the backyard has not appeared which may or may not be a bad omen. Enter the fast-talking prophesying cleaning maid Cassandra (Leah Foster). Moving about the living room in a manner similar to a shaman dancing for rain, Cassandra scolds the siblings as she sweeps the rug.
Though they largely disregard the maids ranting, the siblings are shaken by her premonition of them losing their childhood home. Cassandra tells Vanya and Sonia to “beware the Hootie Pie” and of “Greeks bearing gifts.” In the same breath the maid takes to deal this warning, a car is heard roaring up the driveway. Pausing, Cassandra adds to her previous that their sister Masha (Jeanne Sakata) has arrived and “she is accompanied by a man with Trojans in his back pocket.”
From the moment Masha arrives, Vanya and Sonia are forced to listen to their sister as she regales them with stories from her travels as “a world class celebrity and movie star.” With enough vanity to shame even the wicked queen from Snow White, it is ironic that Masha intends on attending a costume party later that evening dressed as the aforementioned benevolent princess. Her stallion boy toy Spike (Dylan Taylor) will attend dressed as her Prince Charming.
Tagging along is the disarming and upbeat Nina (Michelle Hallbauer) who, despite her youth, plays a brief yet pivotal role in the lives of the three siblings.
Like her five husbands before, Spike leaves Masha for her agent Hootie Pie (as forewarned by Cassandra). Yet even so, the love loss for the actress is minimal as she has come to terms with her age and position in life.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is an honest assessment of the values modern society places on wealth, fame, and youth while emphasizing what truly matters at the end of the day–family.
Heavy on the humor with a healthy peppering of reality, Durang’s comedy is a classic that anyone can relate to. Everyone knows a Sonia, Vanya, a Masha, or Spike. Some of us may even know a Greek tragedy spouting Cassandra.
It was a wonder to witness Leah Foster as Cassandra ramble in one continuous breath of all woe and discord that was to befall Vanya and Sonia. These riotously funny bursts of bad news were rivaled by the outstanding performance handed down by David Klane who, while portraying Vanya, spiraled into a breakdown repeating “and we licked stamps!” as if it were to comfort the character.
The play is a delight escape from the hubbub of the daily routine and provides a strong punch by way of wow factor. Perfectly cast, the company on stage draws the audience in leading one to assume they are watching the lives of three bitter yet strangely close siblings unfold in a most unexpected way.
Although my only parcel of advice would be to leave any children under the age of 13 at home with a babysitter. With more insinuation and stripping down to skivvies on Spikes behalf to shame a room of frat boys, this play comes with a parental advisory.