Talk about three strikes – you’re out, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is the epitome of the dysfunctional family! It takes Tacoma Little Theatre and Director Frank Kohel to prove that, with a great cast, even a family like playwright Christopher Durang’s trio plus one can be saved.
Most dysfunctional families start off with somewhat dysfunctional parents. Now, that’s not to say that their parents, both theatre-obsessed professors with over-expectations of their two natural children, Vanya and Masha and their adopted-at-eight-years-of-age daughter Sonia – all of whom they graced with names from Anton Chekhov plays – were dysfunctional, even though they added a clump of eight or ten cherry trees to the grounds surrounding their home.
However when they were extremely disappointed that at the age of four Vanya said he thought “The Imaginary Invalid” was written by Neil Simon, they seemed to lose all hope in his mental ability – and so did Vanya.
Sonia says she feels like a wild turkey, which flies into the trees and falls back to earth. She continually reminds the audience and herself that she was adopted at eight and has no idea what kind of vermin her birth parents were but is certain they were such losers she had no choice except to follow in their downward path.
Now constantly bickering and middle-aged, neither Vanya nor Sonia has every held a job, nor have any money. Both stayed in their parent’s home to care for them in their declining years until they passed, a task which they equally hated and loved; and which was made possible by their other sibling, Masha.
Masha is the only successful (or is she?) member of the family. Masha is a world famous movie star – recognized by all, envied by many, loved by few – especially as she had begun to age more and more rapidly. Masha is a star who outshines Norma Desmond – the much faded “Sunset Boulevard” has-been actress who forgets she is a has-been.
Masha pays the bills for her siblings and gives them a stipend while she lives life to the fullest with the aid of various lovers and husbands, who are with her until they find their way, through her, to success then disappear into the woodwork. Thus enters Spike!
Spike is Masha’s latest love. He is a mediocre actor who makes his way depending on his athletic body, which Spike is eager to show off at the drop of a T-shirt.
Cassandra is the cleaning woman who holds forth as her Greek name-sake, the mystic never believed princess of prophecy, with a touch of voodoo priestess thrown in.
Nina is a slightly-post-teen neighbor who is in awe of Masha and develops a platonic fondness for Vanya.
Masha returns home with Spike in tow with the decision to sell her house – her brother and sister’s home – which meets with disapproval from both siblings and Cassandra.
Through many words a pilferer of laughter and much conniving on the part of Cassandra, everything works out for the best and we find the three siblings reunited and waiting for the blue heron to alight atop their pond in the backyard near the cherry orchard – if not that evening, according to Vanya, “surely in the morning.”
This poignantly comical character study is filled with subtle over-acting and gracefully awkward movement. All is played out upon another wonderful set designed by Blake R. York, who has given the actors a very realistic lodge to call home complete with exposed rafters, stone fireplace and a remnant of a front yard which leads to the unseen pond.
Prop manager Jeffery Weaver dresses the set in a comfortable, livable style. Michele Graves does the impeccable costume plot with a deft hand in designing the party costumes. Niclas Olson does lights and Chris Serface does sound. Jennifer Nichaus-Rivers is Stage Manager.
Director Kohel couldn’t have asked for a more excellent cast. He has imbued within each a true feeling of character and camaraderie.
Leena Lambert is Nina, the very young neighbor who is in awe of the fading star. Lambert is charming as the new-found friend of the somewhat desolate Vanya.
Freddy Tse has unexpected qualities as Spike. Tse’s self-conceited acting style is just what his character calls for and his physical ability if surprisingly awesome.
Stephanie Leeper plays Masha to the hilt. She is so over-the top, she bubbles forth as a believable personification of the ultimate soon-to-be has-been; Leeper professes true remorse when she admits that she has been asked to take the part of a grandmother.
Dayna Childs is Sonia. Childs plays a petulant child of misfortune who is so unsure of herself that she thrives in petty tantrums and constant disagreement. When the character gets her way with things, Childs blossoms into the strong actor she is.
LaNita Hudson is simply superb as Cassandra. Her look is dynamically beautiful and mysterious. Hudson weaves her body with the magical agility of a most graceful dancer who enjoys her own performance.
Martin Larson is Vanya. Larson returns to the stage after a 27-year hiatus with a resounding bang! His Vanya is laid-back, unemotional, even-tempered – he will let nothing bother him. Larson wears his character as a comfortable robe, accepting all which comes his way with a calm understanding. Until…
Until Vanya is persuaded to do a performance of a short play he has written about the end of all and he sees Spike texting a message on his cell phone. Then Larson reaches down to his toes and brings forth the most dynamic three-page monologue which lasts at least a full five minutes berating the modern world on its lack of communication because of modern communication. Larson’s Vanya goes on to say that the “good ole days” may be gone, but no one in the room had better not forget them or they’ll have him to deal with. Larson delivers the diatribe with perfect timing and true belief in what he is saying as the character and the actor. Job excellently done.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through April 24 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturday with 2 p.m. matinees Sunday. There is a 7:30 p.m. Pay-What-You-Can performance Thursday, April 21.
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is a character study with Masha resembling a sedan chair including only one bearer; Sonia a destruction derby with a tricycle instead of a Chevy; and Vanya like a Bullet Train with hiccups.
This is where our world is headed unless we put down the cell phones, turn off the TV, walk away from the computer and spend some precious time talking – face to face – to each other.
Start by inviting some friends to come with you to a performance of Tacoma Little Theatre’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” and talking about it afterward – face to face to face. You’ll have a second or even a third laugh for the price of one.