REVIEW: ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ @ClevePlayHouse. Play of the Year?

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Want to laugh, recognize a bit of yourself (maybe), not ever wish you were somewhere else while you’re watching a play? Then try not to miss the Cleveland Play House’s current comic, touching, and beautifully cast version of Christopher Durang’s  Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Director Bruce Jordan keeps the story vibrating from mellow to distraught to sexy and back again while all the time generating laughs (either silent, personal ones, or loud lusty ones).

The simple plot places three siblings in a Bucks County country house during one eventful weekend. After caring for their aged parents (and after said parents’ deaths) middle-aged Vanya (John Scherer) and plain Sonia (Toni DiBuono) seem destined for a boring life stuck in the family home.

As the play begins, Scherer and DiBuono skillfully turn Vanya’s willingness to be optimistic and Sonia’s neurotic self-doubts into a subtle and comic tango. They drink (or don’t) coffee, watch the pond for blue herons, and squabble.

When Masha, their aging actress sister (Margaret Reed) descends upon them for a surprise visit, sparks fly. The dashingly dramatic Reed makes us shudder with disdain and (later) sympathy as she flounces about with her boy toy Spike (an appropriately hunky and exhibitonistic Gregory Isaac Stone).

When the saucy housekeeper Cassandra (Danielle Lee Greaves) comes to work she further disturbs life. Greaves reveals fierce comic voodoo chops as she tries to protect Vanya and Sonia. Young beauty Nina (a sweetly good Maren Bush) gets invited in by Spike. At her urging, Vanya stages a reading of his play (no one knew he wrote at all) which features his deliciously funny and long-winded rant in honor of the good old days (where TV featured puppets and happy families).

You don’t have to know who Chekhov is (the sibling’s parents were academics who named their children after characters in the Russian author’s fictions) to enjoy it, but if you do, then you may recognize references to cherry orchards, etc. which make things are even funnier. On a personal note, even better, at last, I see how/why Chekhov thought he wrote comedies (somehow that didn’t translate well for me before. I’d feel too sorry for the characters). Durang has done a marvelous job of teaching me why and how the Russian author poked loving fun at Russian literary memes.

Kudos to Bill Clarke for a beautifully detailed set and brava to Mimi Maxmen for lovely costumes.

Bottom Line: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike made me laugh, care about the people, and never get bored. It gets my nomination for best play of the year.

Performances are at the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square through April 26. For tickets call the Box Office at(216) 241 6000 or check  clevelandplayhouse.com

Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni

 

 

 

Laura Kennelly is a freelance arts journalist, a member of the Music Critics Association of North America, and an associate editor of BACH, a scholarly journal devoted to J. S. Bach and his circle.

Listening to and learning more about music has been a life-long passion. She knows there’s no better place to do that than the Cleveland area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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