VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE
I had seen this Tony award-winning play elsewhere a little over six years ago, and remembered it being funny, so I decided to see it again at this theatre in Venice now. And it’s just as good as it was back then.
The action of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, (which I really wish had a better/easier/not gimmicky title,) takes place over one week-end in the lives of three grown-up siblings, who are named after characters in plays by the classic Russian playwright, Anton Chekov. I didn’t get much into the whole Chekovian aspect of it, though, because I’m far from a fan of the few plays of his I’ve seen; so I just enjoyed this one as it lay. Perhaps if you’re more familiar with Chekov than I am, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike will also have a deeper meaning for you as it goes along. (Only a few of us in the almost-full audience I saw it with chuckled at the many references, so it appears that I’m not alone in my nescience.)
The family’s home is located in a town that’s near and dear to my heart–Bucks County, Pennsylvania. (In case you’re not familiar with the area, which I’m guessing few outside of east coast-ers are, here’s the link to my article about my most recent trip there, which should enlighten you a bit: itsnotaboutme.tv/news/travel-making-new-memories-in-new-hope-pennsylvania.) The play even makes mention of Upper Black Eddy, which is one of the last places I ever camped back in the day. Yet, even though that fun setting is a positive for me, I don’t understand the specificity of it, other than that that’s where the play’s author, Christopher Durang, has lived for many years. The scenario could really take place anywhere close-ish to New York City.
I must say that for such a small stage, set designer William Wilday somehow really makes it feel like we’re viewing an entire house and surrounding property.
Other than one instance in the play where one of the sextet of actors, Brad Greenquist, (who sounds like a cross between John Malkovich and Elliott Gould,) gets to shine on his own, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is really an ensemble piece. The excellent performances, (of a gay man, his nebbishy step-sister, their middle-aged drama queen actress sister and her boy toy, the spiritual housekeeper, and the young wannabe actress,) provide literally something for everyone.
That big moment of Brad’s comes late in Act II. As Vanya, his rant about many aspects of society, complete with references to The Ed Sullivan Show, (with which I totally agree—we need more Señor Wences now!,) is quite the tour de force. The diatribe is a multi-minute monologue, and is entertaining the whole way.
You don’t need to know much more than all of the above. All you really need to know is that Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a well-acted sort-of famous comedy. And everyone who likes to laugh should see it at least once in their lives.
All that being said, it does seem a tad too lengthy, but that’s not the fault of this production; I believe it’s presented as written. And that was in 2012, when perhaps our attention spans were longer. So I suggest going a bit early and stopping by the practically-right-around-the-corner and very hip Abbott Kinney Boulevard before the show for a bite to eat. Or just to observe the happening scene. It’s really fun there. And then park in either the theatre’s free lot or on the street in front, where there’s plentiful parking. It’s a very stress-free theatre experience, which you know I love.
And now I have to tell you of this one strange coincidence. When I saw the show in Santa Monica all those years ago, there was a rude eatery next door. So, with no regard for their theatre neighbors who were presenting a play, they blasted club music during the evening, which interfered with the audience’s enjoyment of Act II. (Especially the pounding bass!) So the main reason I wanted to see this new production of the show was to be able to finally appreciate it with no noise distractions. Cacophony drives me mad. And then, when we sat down at the Pacific Resident Theatre the other night, Artistic Director Marilyn Fox mentioned in her lovely welcome speech that a musical was playing in their own adjacent theatre, and the sound might bleed through the walls a bit! And, of course, it did. Not for the entire time, but for parts of both acts. (But, thank goodness, no bass. Just light music.) So, if you’re as sensitive to auxiliary sound as I am, I suggest you choose seats on the left side of the audience facing the stage. (That might be the best place to view the oft-naked young Spike, anyway, so it could be a win-win.)
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike running through June 4, 2023
Pacific Resident Theatre 703 Venice Blvd. Venice