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“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” a Russian Roulette of emotions

Vanya & Sonia

Vanya & Sonia, step-siblings and housemates (photo by Jon Gardiner).

Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a hybrid outing, injecting the aura of Russian dramaturge, Anton Chekhov, within the realm of a comedic drama. Attendees of the 2013 Tony Award winner for Best Play, need not to be educated on Chekhov nor be a patron of the arts to enjoy this farcical tale of characters vastly different in behavior and thought, yet parallel to each other in eccentricities’ and insecurities.

Set in modern day Pennsylvania, the story is centered on 3 siblings: sarcastic Vanya, who shares his late parents’ home with adopted, neurotic sister Sonia, while both live under the financial support of their actress sister, the theatrical Masha. All are middle aged and experiencing a midlife crisis, yet share none of the same personality traits. Vanya is gay, reclusive and ever frustrated with society, Sonia absentminded, temperamental and bitter over an unspectacular life, while Masha’s grandiosity and flightiness masks a fear of aging and the absence of a successful romantic relationship. An underlying tension exists in the family due to Vanya and Sonia having remained home to care for their ailing parents in their last days, whereas Masha retreated for fame in Hollywood and imposed a physical and emotional distance. Returning later with her younger boyfriend, the childish and sexually vain Spike causes discord to openly erupt as she announces her intention to sell the family estate. As a means to distract her brother and sister from the pending decision, Masha invites them to a costume party. Accompanying them is neighbor Nina, a wholesome yet naïve girl with ambitions to become an actress who encounters Spike.

Spanning a 36 hour period, the sibling’s evolutions to their current states are revealed. With reflection on their own individual psyches, they are able to come to terms with themselves and allowed the opportunity to potentially heal their splintered family. Boy toy Spike’s simplistic flamboyance offers the obligatory dessert, while optimistic Nina is the feel good sentimentality that belays a happier ending for everyone. The breakthrough performance belongs to housekeeper Cassandra, whose ominous predictions and sassy banter with the characters greatly compliments the level of farce present.

Cassandra & Vanya.

Cassandra relays her prophetic vision to Vanya (photo by Jon Gardiner).

Consisting of only 6 actors and one set depicting the living room quarters of the family residence, focus is placed more on contrasting dialogue than visual spectacle. As such, scenes depicting discussion on coordinating costumes for a party or references to Chekhov and the recitation of lines from his other works, reverberate a greater impact upon the audience. Indulgence and despair are dressed for laughs in this edgy, contemporary take with classical roots. You’ll enter amused and exit contemplative as the humor subsides and your mind shifts from collective hysteria you’ve experienced to the unique reality of interpersonal dynamics.

“Vanya, Sonia, Masha & Spike” is directed by Libby Appel (artistic director emerita of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival). Kicking off the 2014-2015 season of Playmakers, the professional theatrical company in residence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the production is on stage at the Paul Green Theater in the UNC Center for the Dramatic Art through October 5, 2014. Tickets are available online at www.playmakersrep.org. You may also contact the box office directly at 919-962-7529 (PLAY) or at 919-843-2311 for group rates. UNC Chapel Hill students can attend the show for a discounted price of $10, $12 for other college students, with discounts for UNC faculty & staff and military personnel.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Lamarr Fowlkes is a Chapel Hill, NC based writer, contributing to Triangle Arts & Entertainment. A descendent of Welsh heritage, current employee and 2015 enrollee at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill completing a degree in Communication, and hockey fanatic, Lamarr will continue to provide arts and entertainment event reviews for the Triangle when not attending to his studies. To read more of Lamarr’s for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/lamarr-fowlkes

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