Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Sheldon Haun Reviews - Theater

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Center REP in Walnut Creek, California is an amazingly pleasurable experience in every imaginable way. From the moment one enters the Lesher Center for the Arts, everything is light, airy, friendly, efficient, and pleasant. Not even crusty old curmudgeons who can usually find some nit to pick to ruin evenings could whisper a discouraging word. Mark Anderson Phillips, the cast, and the entire design team have put together a delightful celebration of self-loathing, bitterness, low self-esteem, and longing for the return of a dying culture.

Christopher Durang's story is of three siblings. One, Masha (Marcia Pizzo) is in control of the family estate and wants to sell it off. The other two, Sonia and Vanya (Jamie Jones and Jackson Davis) are powerless idles who would face destitution should the estate be sold. By the way, the three siblings' estate has a cherry orchard, and they glory at the sight of a particular sea-going bird. Your synapses are now firing away, and when you add three siblings, their names, a cherry orchard, and a sea-going bird, you come up with, of course, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard, and The Seagull by the good doctor, Anton Chekhov.

If you've ever seen a Chekhov play before, they are often played in a somber, sullen, and slow manner, and you most likely wondered at it being billed as “a comedy”. And now, you can forget all that. Durang's play removes the moribund veil on Chekhov and reveals the ridiculousness and incongruity of characters who are bent on savoring every delicious morsel of suffering they can muster.  It is this reviewer's fondest hope that this play illuminates the intention of the playwright, and that all future Chekhov productions will be moved permanently toward farce and ridicule.

Along with the suffering siblings are three other characters. Spike (Rob August) is Masha's boy-toy who contrasts the familial gloom with his self-conceit and exhibitionism. The cleaning lady, Cassandra (Anne Hallinan), you guessed it, is the prophetess whom no one believes. Hallinan breaks into presentational, tragic Greek monologues in a bombastic manner as stereotypical as the Chekhovian drawing room “comedy." And to top it all off, there is the visiting neighbor girl who longs to be a great actress, Nina (Sara Matthes), who, with the help of Vanya, presents a hideously hilarious monologue of self indulgence.

The technical elements of the production are cohesive and appropriately support the actions of the play.  Costumes, scenery, lighting, props, and sound artists Heidi Leigh Hanson, Andrea Bechert, Kurt Landisman, Roger Anderson, and Matt Stines all contribute to the sensory stimulation that makes this production a must see for all Bay Area theatre aficionados.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs through November 21, 2015 at Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA 94596, 925-943-7469