Four's company

Trinity Rep's 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike'
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  November 26, 2013

STAR POWER Kay, McEleney, and Duclos. [Photo by Mark Turek]

Theatergoing bargain hunters are in for a twofer as Trinity Repertory Company presents Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (through December 22). Not only will they get the insightful yet comic stylings of Durang, but thrown in as an extra added bonus are Anton Chekhov’s perceptive observations of family dynamics. As channeled by playwright Durang. And director Curt Columbus.

If you order tickets right now, you won’t get a set of Ginsu knives thrown in, but more than the usual amount of theatrical goodies are provided.

Vanya (Brian McEleney) and Sonia (Janice Duclos) behave like an old married couple — well, one past its prime — but are brother and sister. He’s 57 and she’s 52, and we first see them sitting and looking out at a tranquil pond, alternating soothing pleasantries with bickering. Every trivial disagreement that wears out, such as whether the 10 or 12 cherry trees on the estate constitute a cherry orchard, can be retreaded endlessly.

They were named after Chekhov characters by literature professor parents who were also active in community theater. They live in the family home where they grew up, out of psychological exhaustion and inertia after having spent 15 years caring for their dying parents. In turn, they’ve been taken care of, financially, by their absent sister Masha (Phyllis Kay), an actress — her five-film franchise as a nymphomaniac serial killer made her millions.

But Masha does show up, with her latest boy toy, actor wanna-be Spike (Mark Larson), in chipperly compliant tow. Bubble-headed but buff, he takes off his shirt at every opportunity. Five times married — or, more to the point, five times divorced — at 42, Masha can’t figure out why she has such bad luck with men. After a few minutes with her, we could make a list.

Popping into action now and then to utter dire pronouncements is Cassandra (Tangela Large), named after the figure from Greek mythology who could accurately foresee the future but was cursed with not being believed. Also serving as their cleaning lady, she dramatically foresees doom every morning, all but speaking in tongues and collapsing in fits. One prediction she delivers before Masha arrives is to “Beware of Hootie Pie!” And what is the name of Masha’s assistant? You got it.

Vanya is gay but too shy to do anything about it, and Sonia feels inferior about being only an adopted daughter, but Masha has enough preening self-regard to supply a political dynasty. Without intending to, she pulls them out of their social stupor, and out of the house they rarely leave, by accepting an invitation to a posh costume party nearby. She decides to go as Snow White, and to her mind this means they should go as lesser characters surrounding her in the fairytale, such as Spike as Prince Charming and Vanya as the dwarf Doc.

By this point, Nina (Sylvia Kates) has come into the picture. The bubbly young neighbor is thrilled to not only meet this famous movie star but also temporarily join her entourage. She is honored to
be instructed to dress up as Dopey, which not only cruelly fits her sweet temperament but is payment for Spike finding
her attractive.

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