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Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike at Main Stage West – REVIEW by Harry Duke


Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike
at Main Stage West
REVIEW by Harry Duke

Christopher Durang’s “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike” won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, which proves one thing - theatre people LOVE plays about theatre people!  Not that it’s a bad play; it’s just that having some knowledge of theatre - Chekhov in particular – and the personalities and egos involved could increase your enjoyment of this comedy currently running at Sebastopol’s Main Stage West.

Director Sheri Lee Miller has gathered a formidable cast of comedic performers to bring to life the title characters (plus two others) in a play about dysfunctional siblings frustrated with their lots in life who are warring over past slights and the dispensation of a family estate.  Sound Chekhovian enough for you?

Vanya (Eric Thompson) and Sonia (Madeleine Ashe) are late middle-aged siblings (Sonia’s adopted, as she repeatdly reminds us) who dedicated their lives to being caretakers for their infirmed parents. Since the parents’ passing, they have continued to live in the family home and off the largess of their vainglorious actress sister Masha (Elly Lichenstein).  Clairvoyant housekeeper Cassandra (Naomi Sample) has warned the siblings of impending difficulties.

Sure enough, Masha soon appears with Hollywood “himbo” Spike (Tyler Costin) in tow to attend a costume party for “interesting” people.  Further complications include the arrival of a young ingénue who adores Masha but for whom Spike may have eyes and Masha’s decision to sell the homestead. The action all takes place in the rear patio area of the family home (nicely designed by David Lear) and set in Bucks County, PA.

Eric Thompson, Elly Lichenstein, Tyler CostinI did mention that this is a comedy, right? You wouldn’t think comedy could be mined from the morass of regret, self-pity, and mistrust contained in the above scenario, but it is a testament to Durang’s talent that he does.  Add to the aforementioned scenario Snow White and two of the seven dwarfs costumes, a wicked queen a la Maggie Smith from “California Suite”, voodoo, a frequently stripped-to-the-skivvies slab of very lean beefcake, and a god-awful play-within-the-play where the lead character is a molecule, and you’ll soon get the sense that what’s going on at this rural Pennsylvanian domicile equipped with a cherry orchard isn’t going to be “The Cherry Orchard.”

Miller’s cast works well together and all have their comedic (and occasionally serio-comedic) moments.  The heavy lifting, however, is done by Tyler Costin as the dim-bulb Hollywood wannabe, whose greatest success to date is that he was almost cast in a never produced sequel to the HBO series “Entourage.” He actually gets two good scenes – one where he recreates the audition that almost got him the role and another where he does a reverse strip-tease.

Madeleine Ashe is quite fun as the older sister with deep self-esteem issues who finally gets one up on her sister.  She also gets a poignant monologue when she gets a chance to begin to break out of her “cocoon.”  Elly Lichenstein’s Masha and her oversized ego earn their share of the laughs, but veteran Lichenstein seemed curiously out-of-sync and tentative with her lines throughout the evening's performance.

The cast of Vanya & Sonia & Masha & SpikeDurang’s play began as a one-act and its padding shows as it starts to wear thin in the second act, particularly when Vanya goes on an extended tirade on how things have changed over the years. Thompson does well with the semi-monologue, but it seems to go on, becomes repetitive and belabors its point.  This is followed by a rather quick resolution to all the problems presented as the over-long show peters out in the end.

There are plenty of laughs, however, to be had before it gets there, and while the show is thick with inside-theatre jokes and east coast references ( I may have been the only one in attendance to know what a Wawa is) the cast does a good job of delivering those laughs to a local audience.

Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike

Thu/Fri/Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 5pm through November 16
No Show Nov 13 or Nov 14

Thursdays are "Pay What You Will" nights

Main Stage West
104 N Main St
Sebastopol, CA 95472

(707) 823-0177

Photos by Eric Chazankin