Sonya, Vanya, and Masha in the Forest Moon Theater’s production of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, directed by Mike McGee and now playing at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre for the Arts in Wake Forest, NC, are adult siblings who are all approaching middle age. Their parents named them after characters in Chekhov plays; and there are many references to Chekhov’s work throughout the play, including the bird references and the general ennui found throughout the production.
Adopted sister Sonya (Morrisa Nagel) and her sibling Vanya (Chris Brown) have stayed in the family home as caregivers for their aging parents, who have recently passed away. These two are stuck in a rut and barely have the energy to stir their coffee, although they find time to bicker with each another as siblings do. Sonya feels that life has passed her by, whereas Vanya is resigned to his fate, content to watch the world pass them by slowly outside of their window.
Enter sister Masha (Christine Rogers), a fading actress who has found some acclaim in Hollywood. Masha is egotistical and self-centered, and she is accustomed to the world doing her bidding. Of course, she expects no less from her siblings.
Masha has come to town to attend a costume party, and she demands that her siblings wear dwarf costumes, so that she can be Snow White, even though they are not really interested in doing so. Of course, their refusal leads to drama.
Masha also brings with her a young buck, Spike (Tim Fitch), an unabashed boy-toy who quickly sheds his clothes to go jump into the pond out back. There is also a young ingénue Nina (Amanda Axelrod) and a psychic housekeeper Cassandra (Shana Fisher), who keeps the predictions coming (“Beware of Hootiepie!”).
What the siblings quickly learn is that Masha plans on selling the family home, which she has been paying for; but she has decided that she simply doesn’t get to town that often to warrant the expense. It hasn’t even occurred to the insensitive Masha that the sale would put her siblings out on the street. This also leads to drama.
However, this is not a true dramatic play; and the show has many moments that make the audience laugh, such as Spike’s reverse striptease, Cassandra’s voodoo-doll experiments, and the dwarf costumes. A play with such an odd combination of angst, clichés, and silliness relies heavily on the actors to carry the load; and needs for them to be all-in, especially when the material itself is a little thin.
Unfortunately, it seemed that the actors were holding back from embracing their characters fully. Perhaps, comedy being applied over the characters’ sadness was a little off-putting.
There were memorable moments in the play, however, such as Morrisa Nagel’s treatment of her touching scene on the telephone. In it, we saw hope, and fear, and her reaching deep to muster the courage to reach for something more. Moments like that are why we go to the theater. Vanya’s reflection of a long-lost era (“We licked stamps!”) also seemed to resonate with the older set in the audience. Many of the references will be lost on younger set, but doesn’t every generation think that we are all going to hell in a hand-basket?
There is also an interesting “play-within-a-play” scenario when Vanya puts on a play that he has been working on. It was mind-bending to watch the actors pretend that they were not actors who were acting in a play within this play.
This is a valiant effort by Forest Moon Theater. They did their best with flimsy material; and ultimately, since it is a play about longing and regret, we can all relate.
From the Department of Picky-Picky: Vanya’s nightshirt is a little short; and when he sat in his chair to drink his morning coffee, he flashed the audience. The row behind us gasped and giggled. An extra yard of material appears to be in order.
The Forest Moon Theater presents VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE at 7:30 p.m. June 15, 3 p.m. June 16, 7:30 p.m. June 7:30 p.m. June 21 and 22, and 3 p.m. June 23 at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre for the Arts, 405 S. Brooks St., Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587.
TICKETS: $15 ($13 students 18 and under and seniors 65+) in advance and $18 ($16 students 18 and under and seniors 65+) at the door. (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain).
BOX OFFICE: 919-435-2001, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://www.etix.com/.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-435-2001 or email@example.com.
SHOW: https://forestmoontheater.org/vanya-and-sonia-and-masha-and-spike and https://www.facebook.com/events/643200279488936/.
2018-19 SEASON: https://forestmoontheater.org/season-passes-for-2018-2019/.
PRESENTER: http://www.forestmoontheater.org/, https://www.facebook.com/forestmoontheater, https://twitter.com/FMTheater, and https://www.youtube.com/user/ForestMoonTheater?feature=mhee.
VENUE: https://www.wakeforestrencen.org/, https://www.facebook.com/WFRenaissanceCentre, and https://twitter.com/WFRenCen.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (2012 Princeton, NJ; 2012 Off-Broadway; and 2013 Broadway comedy): https://groveatlantic.com/book/vanya-and-sonia-and-masha-and-spike/ (Grove Atlantic), http://iobdb.com/Production/5553 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/vanya-and-sonia-and-masha-and-spike-494052 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanya_and_Sonia_and_Masha_and_Spike (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.thepublictheatre.org/assets/education/study-guides/2014-15/Vanya-and-Sonia-Study-Guide.pdf (The Public Theatre of Lewiston, ME).
Christopher Durang (Montclair, NJ-born playwright and screenwriter): http://www.christopherdurang.com/ (official website), http://iobdb.com/CreditableEntity/2641 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/christopher-durang-4832 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0243837/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Durang (Wikipedia).
Mike McGee (Raleigh, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/Mike.McGee9 (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.