‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ by the Huntington Theatre Company

‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ – Directed by Jessica Stone; Set Design by
David Korins. Costume Design by Gabriel Berry-Lights, and David Weiner.
Original Music and Sound Design, Mark Bennett. Presented by The Huntington
Theatre Company, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston through February 1st.

If you’re entertaining the idea of seeing
the Huntington Theatre’s production of ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ but are
holding back from buying tickets because you’re concerned that you may not get
the Chekhov references – don’t be. It really wouldn’t matter if you only think
of  Chekhov as the Russian navigator on
Star Trek, because this broad (and very funny) comedy about the weekend get
together of a warped family facing the uncertainty of rapidly advancing middle
age is so over the top that you’ll be laughing too hard to look for any deeper
meaning.  A knowledge of Anton Chekhov
might help you understand why the audience is laughing at some of the Cherry
Orchard references, but trust me, just go.

The Tony Award-winning play (2013) play
centers around a surprise visit by Masha, an aging (by Hollywood standards)
actress whose main source of fame comes from her starring role in the wildly
popular B-movie “Sexy Killer” and its four sequels. Masha also has
her much younger “boyfriend” in tow, the physically impressive but
clueless Spike, who was given the moniker by his agent in place of his given
name – Vlad. Masha drops in unexpectedly on her siblings Sonia and Vanya, who
lead lonely and isolated lives in their beautiful pond-side home in Bucks
County, Pennsylvania. Sonia, who never misses a chance to remind people that
she is adopted, and Vanya, who is gay but apparently uninvolved with anyone,
rarely venture into the outside world after spending 15 years tending to their
now deceased parents.

Chekhov once wrote, “People who lead
a lonely existence always have something on their minds that they are eager to
talk about.” And that describes Sonia, who spends most of her time carping
about how much her “horrible” life sucks, constantly likening herself
to the flightless and silly wild turkeys that live near her home. “I’m a
wild turkey,” she frequently moans, and that appears to be true (at first)
as she appears to lack both wit and grace. Vanya seems more accepting of his
life, but it’s one that also seems pretty joyless.

As Cassandra, the eccentric but prophetic
housekeeper (hilariously) prophesizes, Masha’s visit portends evil, as she plans 
to sell the house (for which she has been paying the mortgage) from
underneath her chronically depressed siblings. The weekend that follows is a
series of epiphanies for the characters, some painful, but wildly entertaining
for the audience. True, this is a story about family dynamics, but what really
makes this such a comic joy (other than Christopher Durang’s terrific writing)
are the performances by the cast.

As Sonia, Marcia DeBonis is initially
pathetic, wallowing in self-pity before coming to life at a costume party
dressed as the evil queen in “Snow White” – as played by Maggie Smith
in “California Suite”- if that makes any sense, and watching her
transformation following the party is life affirming. As the crumbling beauty
Masha, Candy Buckley is WAY over the top, beautifully portraying a desperate
starlet clutching onto her fading youth by her perfectly manicured fingernails,
and kicking and screaming every step of the way. Martin Moran is effective as
the hapless Vanya, but really comes to life during an extended and explosively
funny screed about how today’s narcissistic society has weakened us human
beings, largely through our obsession with media and technology. It goes on a
little long, but delivers some of the evening’s best comic moments. Tyler
Lansing Weaks has the difficult job of playing the dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers
Spike, but he does so with such glee that you forget how difficult it is for
smart actors (he was MacBeth on Broadway) to play stupid.

The supporting members are terrific, too,
with the angelic Allison Layman convincingly playing the naive Nina. But it is
Haneefa Wood that nearly steals the show as the housekeeper/oracle Cassandra as
she injects a manic comic energy into her character, especially when she
performs a voodoo ritual on one of the characters. The play sometimes feels
like a sitcom episode, but what it lacks in sheer brilliance it makes up for
with a barrel load of laughs. For more info, go to: http://www.huntingtontheatre.org/season/2014-2015/vanya-sonia-masha-spike/

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