GableStage at the Biltmore
Thru June 17th
First and foremost, you don't need a degree in Theatre, with emphasis on Chekov, to enjoy "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" now on stage at GableStage in Coral Gables. This crisp romp with its nod to themes we've all dealt with in family settings, stands on its own. It always helps when you know some of the ins and outs of characters, but it doesn't muddy the waters at all if you don't know "The Cherry Orchard", "Three Sisters", "The Seagull", and "Uncle Vanya" or any of the others. The wickedly funny show is just that - and at times outragesously so.
The story. Vanya (Avi Hoffman) and Sonia (Laura Turnbull) - named after characters in Chekhov's plays by their community theatre loving parents - live in Pennsylvania in the house they've lived in most of their lives. After spending their lives as caretakers for their parents, neither has a job, and live on the money provided by their movie star sister Masha (Margarita Coego), who owns the house and pays the bills.
While Vanya and Sonia spend their days mired in self-pity, bemoaning their fate, Masha returns home, bringing with her an aging persona, a trunk full of drama, insecurities galore and a new found, not very bright hunka, hunka of burnin' love named Spike (Domenic Servidio). Sonia's resentments and Masha's competitive nature begin to spark arguments and while Vanya tries to keep the peace, he is repeatedly distracted by the preening Spike, who takes every opportunity possible to strip down and show off his muscular body - which he does well, and with regularity.
Masha announces she intends to sell the house leaving Vanya and Sonia devastated and potentially out on the street. Through the twists and turns of the show, including a costume party featuring Snow White and the Two Dwarfs, all that doesn't happen. And though they probably don't live happily ever after (it is Chekovian after all) they do resolve the issues at hand and muster a requisite
bit of optimism.
Beneath and behind all the humor in "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike", the storyline is one of anger, loneliness, despair, angst, desparation and fear - all consistent, recurring Chekov themes. While Chekov didn't use much humor in his plays, this mash-up does and it helps amplify the pain and sorrow lingering in the background. It's a very effective mask.
The more than first rate cast, was anchored by an incredibly strong performance by Hoffman, whose quiet, measured Act I, led up to a hell, fire and brimstone soliloquy to cap off Act II. Likewise strong solo turns by, Coego, Servidio and Turnbull in her full-blown Maggie Smith persona were highlights. The aptly named, soothsaying, sassy, Cassandra (Jade Wheeler) and the aspiring actress/nymph Nina (Hayley Bruce) round out the cast and also brought solid performances.
"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" directed by Joe Adler, moves at a very fast pace - almost too fast in some spots. Once again though, he gets the most out a cast of veterans and rookies. The tremendous set by Lyle Baskin is one of the best ever at GableStage, using that limited space to the max. Costumes by Ellis Tillman, lighting by Steve Welsh, sound by Matt Corey and incidental original music from Mark Bennett round out a really well done tech side to the show as well.
Its always a bit dicey to talk about perceived shortcomings in a Tony Award winning script (Best Play) but Christopher Durang's script seemed a bit talky, long and loose at times. The references to other characters and other plays seemed superfluous and too much the inside joke, but the actors handled it well and moved it along, as I mentioned, at a brisk pace.
Just as Vanya yearned for the good old days in his soliloquy, I too would've liked a bit more shading and nuance from the actors. A little extra time in delivery would seem to generate a lot more connection between characters and audience. To me, it was the missing link that kept this fine, fun show from being a great one.
"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" runs through June 17th at GableStage at The Biltmore. Tickets: www.gablestage.org
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