Written by 3:18 am Review, Stagestheatre, Theater, Uncategorized

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike @ STAGEStheatre in Fullerton – Review

Written by Scotty Keister 

You don’t have to be a fan of Chekhov to appreciate “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” but it certainly adds icing to an already delicious cake. Now running at Stages Theatre, Christopher Durang’s 2013 Tony winner for Best Play is not only a hilarious homage to Chekhov’s four main plays (Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, The Three Sisters, The Seagull) but also a spoof of modern life, clinging to the past while the present tramples all over it.

Vanya (Joe Parrish) and Sonia (Cynthia Ryanen) are still living in the large Bucks County, PA house where they grew up, after having tended to their parents right up to their deaths. Those parents, academics and community theater buffs, have named their children after Chekhov characters, seemingly dooming them to repeat those characters’ various ill fates. Vanya and Sonia have apparently never held jobs, or had much connection to the outside world. They sit around the back patio, day after day, waiting for the blue herons to arrive, or staring into the nearby cherry orchard (only eight or nine trees) while bemoaning the waste their lives have become; “Our lives are over” is their standard refrain. But it’s not morbid or tiresome – it’s hysterical. Praise to the superior low-key acting of OC veterans, Parrish and especially Ryanen, for making Durang’s dialog leap directly at your funny bone. The housekeeper, Cassandra (a very offbeat and funny Kerri Hellmuth), continually interrupts the brooding with her oblique forecasts of doom, much of which are soon to come true.

The arrival of the third sibling, international movie star and egomaniac, Masha, is about to change everything. Masha shows up in a whirlwind, dragging behind her newest boy-toy, young pretty boy and wannabe actor, Spike (an engaging Wolfgang Novogratz). Mo Arii, a Stages veteran, has never been better in her over the top, vain and vapid portrayal of Masha, who, as it turns out, has been supporting all the finances on the house since forever, and now intends to sell it. Echoes of Chekhov again. A costume party at a neighbors’ house and the introduction of a neighbor’s young visiting relative, Nina (a charming Katie Raymond), throws a major wrench into all their lives. True, long-repressed characters emerge in wholly unexpected ways that are dramatic and touching while at the same time a laugh riot. Soft-spoken and calm Vanya goes on a stunning and hysterically accurate diatribe about how the modern age has completely disconnected people from each other, whereas the 50s saw everyone co-joined through programs like The Ed Sullivan Show and Ozzie and Harriet. Nina speaks a line most closely aligned to Chekhov that somehow seems to nail the play as well: “You must always get your hopes up.”

Even though the play hits upon dramatic issues of relationships, family, nostalgia, grief and disappointment, veteran director Gary Krinke keeps his actors on a constant wavelength of comedy, allowing Durang’s wit to blaze through the drama. The cast is uniformly solid. John Gaw’s set is a peaceful and lovely house to gaze upon and David Campos’ costumes fit just right. So forget about Chekhov, if you’re not a college theater major, and just come to laugh your butt off. The show runs through January 29, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, with additional shows Thursday, January 26th at 8:00 pm. and Saturday, January 28th at 4:30 pm.

Exceptional Show

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