Morning. Vanya and Sonia’s family home.
Unemployed and lacking purpose in their lives, middle-aged siblings Vanya (Christopher Hunt) and Sonia (Lois Anderson) indulge in self-pity, and listen to what prophecies their cleaning lady Cassandra (Nadien Chu), who no ever believes, has for them today. The day is set to be like every other day, that is until their sister Masha (Sonja Smits) makes a surprise visit home.
Opening Alberta Theatre Projects’ 2015/16 season is Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, an absurd comedy about three (im)mature siblings caught adrift in disappointment. Durang evokes elements of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s writing for this oddly touching, albeit flat, story of siblings trying to reconcile with each other and life’s what-ifs.
For 15 years, Vanya and Sonia cared for their parents, now deceased, while Masha made something of her life as a film actress. And despite their parents, whose love for community theatre led them to name their children after Chekhov characters, being gone, Vanya and Sonia’s lives remain in pause, burdened by discontent over what could have been. Thankfully, Masha’s film career has not only been able to pay for the home and all the bills, but also a small living stipend for her brother and adopted sister.
Underneath the shiny veneer of her film career, Masha’s life is rife with disappointment, too. After five failed marriages, Masha has landed herself Spike (Stafford Perry), a dumb-as-rocks boy toy who ‘almost’ got cast in the sequel to Entourage. Masha’s sense of superiority over her siblings is largely a facade to hide her own insecurities – which only worsen when the neighbor’s young niece Nina (Lara Schmitz), an aspiring actress, enters the picture.
Director Glynis Leyshon has the difficult task of staging Durang’s bloated script, which runs here two hours with a 20 minute intermission. The first act is certainly good. Sonia’s resentment over being adopted and ignored all her life makes tense her relationship with Masha, and uneasy Vanya who is caught between them. Anderson, Hunt, and Smits squabble as only siblings do, making for rich comedic moments as the strained dynamic between their childish characters develops. The dysfunctionality comes to a boil when Smit’s insensitive Masha tells Vanya and Sonia that she intends on selling the family home, effectively leaving them homeless. Like a rifle hanging on the wall, the audience waits to see what drama unfolds in the second act.
The second act sees the audience restless in their seats, which is too bad considering Leyshon finds something genuine for both Sonia and Vanya.
Over the phone, Sonia manages to develop a connection with someone she met at the neighbor’s costume party. Anderson’s timid vulnerability runs through excitement, self-doubt, and then self-affirmation, earning her well-deserved applause from the audience. Meanwhile, Hunt’s Vanya, disgusted by Spike’s ‘millennial’ ignorance, delivers an impassioned rant about the past, technology, and our increasingly isolated 21st century lives. Hunt’s convictions falter, however, as he slowly realizes that the past had its share of flaws too, eventually confronting the depressing idea that life has never been good. Regret for what was lost turns to regret for what can never be gained. Applause.
Beyond these two standout moments, the play’s second act feels hastily thrown together, almost like a mishmash of ideas. Certainly, Durang is something of an acquired taste, but here even those familiar with his work will feel dismayed by the playwright’s dull writing. Leyshon, as mentioned, does make it work to some degree, but unfortunately the script is too laden with Chekhovian decline.
Plain, but sophisticated with its fireplace and tall book shelves, Catherine Hahn’s rustic set is simply gorgeous. Hahn’s set embodies a pristine, frozen in time quality that reflects well the state of the characters whose discontent line the antiquated walls.
Really, ATP’s production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is fun, thanks to the talent of its cast. Perry has plenty fun flaunting his sculpted physique as the underwear clad Spike. Chu hams it up to great effect for the crazed, prophesy spewing Cassandra. Schmitz’s peppy, doe eyed Nina plays a molecule in a ridiculous play-within-a-play about climate change. Unfortunately, a sluggish second act fails to deliver, leaving the audience ready to exit before curtain.
Alberta Theatre Projects’ production of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike ran September 15 – October 3rd, 2015.
For more information about the show, visit: http://atplive.com/whats-on/vanya-and-sonia-and-masha-and-spike/