By Manning Harris
Horizon Theatre is currently presenting Christopher Durang’s Tony-winning (2013) comedy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” directed by Justin Anderson, running through June 28.
It’s a totally delightful way to begin the summer. Durang is a fan of the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, and he writes, “It’s a comedy inspired by Chekhov’s themes and characters—I’ve put them in a blender and shaken them up.” But you don’t have to know a line of Chekhov to have a ball at “Vanya.” If you enjoy family hijinks, comic contemplation of things past, rueful regret tinged with absurdity and sexual longing, you may find this play is just your cup of tea.
On top of everything, the show is really a love letter to theatre; and Mr. Anderson has assembled a talented, zestful cast to ensure we have a good time.
The setting is a family farmhouse in Bucks County, PA. Brother and sister Vanya and Sonia (William S. Murphey and Lala Cochran) have lived there all their lives; they took care of their now deceased parents, but the two have really never grown up. They’ve never worked, because their sister Masha (Tess Malis Kincaid) is a successful movie star and owns and maintains the house. She’s seldom there.
So Sonia and Vanya look after each other, squabble a bit, and enjoy a placid existence. Sonia’s neuroses begin to surface: She comments often that she was adopted and is prone to moan “I’m a wild turkey!” What she means by that you may figure out; it’s delightfully wacky and vague; so is Sonia. All three siblings were given Chekhovian names by their professor-theatre-loving parents. Playwright Henrik Ibsen, a contemporary of Chekhov, wrote a play called “The Wild Duck.” Vanya is gay, genial, and a frustrated playwright.
Suddenly, into this placidity sweeps the flamboyant Masha, with a hunky young companion named Spike (Edward McCreary) in tow. Some years ago Madonna made the phrase “boy toy” popular; that would be Spike. He’s a grown-up child who simply wants attention. He also seeks any opportunity to show off his fine physique, to the satisfaction of Masha and the consternation of Vanya and Sonia. Mr. McCreary makes Spike quite funny and charming in a childlike way.
There’s a housekeeper named Cassandra (Denise Arribas) who fancies herself a prophetess/soothsayer. She often makes doomsday pronouncements. She fits right into this household.
There’s a very pretty neighbor named Nina (Danielle Deadwyler) who catches Spike’s eye (and Masha’s ire); she is an aspiring actress. Everybody’s aspiring to something, it seems: Even the glamorous Masha laments that her career in the theatre should have been greater, but alas, the call of B-movie stardom intervened.
Masha has in fact returned to attend an important party in the neighborhood; she’s decided to go as Snow White and insists her underlings, uh, siblings go as dwarfs. Dear Sonia is less than thrilled and rebels. How she rebels you must discover for yourself. Nina, confident in her youth and beauty, is thrilled to be going as anything. So is Spike.
As you can see, the plot is farcical and fun; playwright Durang is at the top of his game. The only slight problem for me occurs in Act II when he veers from the storyline to have Vanya read from his unfinished play (with Nina playing a molecule). When he sees a bored Spike texting, he launches into a tirade against the world’s technical obsessions and artificiality. Mr. Murphey shines in this monologue, but it’s a tad harsh considering the play’s established light tone.
However—the overarching supertruth is that the play is full of color and life and fun. Lala Cochran reveals herself a seriously gifted comic actress; her Sonia is vulnerable and rather morose but extremely funny at the same time. This is a rare gift in the theatre.
It’s a great cast. Three time Suzi Award winner Tess Malis Kincaid sparkles, as does the entire cast. I think Ms. Deadwyler has quite a future, as does Mr. McCreary, who has a fine singing voice he doesn’t use here, but I remember his robust Curly in last summer’s “Oklahoma!” at Serenbe Playhouse.
Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay work their customary magic with both scenic design and costumes.
Justin Anderson is one of Atlanta’s most sought after directors; he can direct huge shows like Aurora’s “Les Misérables” or smaller shows, like this one, with equal finesse.
Don’t cheat yourself out of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” Your feel-good endorphins may never forgive you.
For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com.