Theater review

‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ is a comic gem

Posted:  Thursday, August 10, 2017 - 2:30pm
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Beware! River Company’s latest production of “Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike” is seriously funny. Yes, the Tony-nominated Christopher Durang play is well-written, but it’s the cast that really brings it on home. In fact, you might want to see it twice.

Durang creates four characters in this play straight from Chekhov: Vanya and Sonia from “Uncle Vanya,” Masha from “Three Sisters” and Nina from “The Seagull;” and mixes in Cassandra of Greek mythology fame. There are some references and direct quotes from these plays in the dialogue. Not up on your Chekhov? No worries – you don’t need to.

Middle-aged siblings Vanya (Stephen Wallace) and Sonia (Christine Andersen) live in their now deceased parents’ farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Sonia, though adopted, was the child who clocked the most hours in the caregiving department in mom and dad’s final years – that lasted a l-o-n-g time. Sonia is bitter about the dreams she never chased, and other opportunities for love and marriage that she feels are beyond her now. and greets each morning morosely. Making coffee for the two of them is the highlight of her mornings. Vanya on the other hand seems to have taken all that missed dream-chasing and chances for love in stride; he spends his days reading.

The play opens with Vanya coming onstage, in a charming nightshirt BTW, with a cupper and a paper. Sonia then appears with two cups of coffee and is not at all happy to see her brother has coffee already. Sonia convinces Vanya to take the coffee she brought him and he makes the mistake of saying the original cup tasted better … this ends with Sonia deciding to throw the cups of coffee on the floor (and they’re not Corelle).

Enter Cassandra (Thalia Eddyblouin). “Beware! I see doom and destruction swirling around you!” Cassandra says “beware” a lot – her name is Cassandra, after all. She is the cleaning woman who receives messages from the beyond – constantly. After imparting more cautionary intel to Vanya and Sonia, she reluctantly looks for a broom to clean up the broken cups. And then dramatically adds: “Beware of Hootie Pie.” The siblings look at her quizzically – what the hell is a hootie pie, anyway?

Not long after, Masha (Tamara Lilly), the sibling who fairly fled the family home in search of the footlights and she did achieve some celebrity as the star of many a B movie, arrives. And she’s not alone. Masha has a young stud with her, Spike (Tyson Bailey). Also an actor, Spike recently had a successful audition for “Entourage 2” – just not successful enough to land the part.

Masha sends Spike back out to the car to get the costumes. Costumes? Why yes, everyone is going to the costume party being held by a retired actor. Masha, after being advised by her agent HOOTIE PIE, to go as Snow White, has decided on everyone’s costumes. Spike will be Prince Charming and Vanya and Sonia will go as two of the seven dwarves.

This doesn’t sit well with Sonia, who insists on going as someone else … like the evil queen in Snow White in the guise of Dame Maggie Smith on her way to the Oscars. Way to upstage the actress in the family! Go Sonia!

Masha informs Vanya and Sonia that she must sell the farmhouse – it’s just become too costly for her to keep paying for AND the monthly stipend she pays them. Why? Film offers are just not coming her way, and when they do ...for example, Masha had recently been offered the role of a grandmother!

Vanya, meantime, has become quite interested in Spike, but not as interested as Spike is in himself. One very funny scene has Spike admiring himself in a mirror next to the couch where Vanya (ostensibly reading the paper) and Sonia are sitting. Spike had just returned from a swim in the nearby pond – and had stripped down to his Speedo underwear (in the living room) – and he’s not alone. He’s brought the lithe, lovely, blonde Nina (Brittany Wallingford) with him. Nina lives next door and, as it turns out, is Masha’s biggest fan (no, it’s OK, this isn’t Stephen King) and an aspiring actress. She just had to come over and meet her idol. Masha immediately sees the nymph as competition – fan or no fan.

Anyway, Masha and Nina are chatting on the opposite side of the room from the others while Spike is assuming muscle poses, running his hands through his hair and making “come on” expressions in the mirror. Vanya holds his paper up to cover his face – and to watch Spike. This scene is so distracting – even for the audience  – you might miss what Masha and Nina are talking about.

Who is Hootie Pie? Will the farm be sold? Will Sonia be a hit at the costume party? Will Spike put clothes back on?

Directed by Allison Eddyblouin, this cast is spot on. Tamara Lilly is smashing as Masha – loved her. Her facial expressions … Lilly can speak volumes with ’em. Brittany Wallingford’s portrayal of Nina is dynamite. Wallingford is a breath of fresh air. Stephen Wallace is just so fine as Vanya, the character who grounds the whole show together. Christine Andersen is fabulous as Sonia – and as Maggie Smith, for that matter! Tyson Bailey’s portrayal of the highly sexed boy toy is dead on and dead funny. And Thalia Eddyblouin? She absolutely NAILS it as Cassandra.

Don’t miss River Company’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” – it’s one hell of an ensemble cast.

Remaining  shows are Friday, Aug. 11 and Saturday, Aug 12 at 7:30 and Sunday, Aug. 13 at 3 p.m. in Porter Meeting Hall at Skidompha Library in Damariscotta. For tickets call 207-315-0547.