Commentary on Asolo Repertory Theatre’s “Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike”

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Commentary on Asolo Repertory Theatre’s “Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike”

A Thin Line

The movie, A Thin Red Line, was based on the James Jones novel about a line of US soldiers at Guadalcanal. Presumably about the line soldiers sometimes cross when in battle. The Thin Blue Line is a colloquial term for the police – separating the good from the evil. In the case of the Asolo Repertory Theatre production of the Tony award winning play “Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike”, the thin line is the one at the edge of a precipice separating firm ground from the emptiness that one finds under foot if one steps too far over the edge.

Chris Durang, the play’s author, is the first to tempt fate with his writing. If one makes every character in a play a dysfunctional caricature, the result is often high camp or bad farce. But, somehow, by writing with sufficient wit and by pulling the characters back into reality whenever they go too far over the edge, he does not fall. Or, if he does momentarily, the actors in this production are there to pull him back.

We have all seen good plays that have been sorrowfully misinterpreted and poor plays brought to great heights. It is nice when a good director, Peter Amster, does well by a good play. Everything keeps moving and everything stays within bounds – which sometimes is hard with plays by Durang.

A simple synopsis of the play would be that a family that has always been at odds with itself can be drawn together by a series of believable(???) events. Many, many plays have been written based on this theme. The way in which “Vanya and ….” succeeds is in Durang’s characterization. Yes, while he does accentuate certain aspects of each player for laughs, he does it well and wittily. Each character (excepting Cassandra and Spike) are named for characters in Chekov’s novels and have some of their attributes. While Durang could have dropped those names and retained the attributes, why should he have; he
was having fun. The play would have been the same except that those who know Chekov slightly less well would not have been able to say “I see
the connection between Durang’s characters and Chekov’s characters”. Those that know Chekov would see the connection and those who don’t would still see the interaction of the players.

How the brother and sister, Vanya and Sonia, are interrupted in their drifting, lonely lives by the arrival of their caringly uncaring sister Masha (with her sexbot Spike) and how all are moved forward to the play’s conclusion by Cassandra and Nina is what the action is all about.

We do see a mildly gay man (Andrew Sellon’s Vanya); a late blooming wall flower (Peggy Roeder as Sonia); an aging diva (Anne-Marie Cusson as Masha); Tyla Abercrumbie’s psychic cleaning lady, Cassandra; a young ingenue, Nina, played by the young ingenue Tori Grace Hines and a boy toy, Spike, vivaciously played by Jefferson McDonald.

This is the part of a review where the critic (with or without a spoiler alert) writes “I especially liked when Sonia ____ on the _______ of _____ _____” or “When Vanya _______ _______ and _________”. Well, I won’t give anything away, why spoil your fun. Simply know that there are witty lines, characters and characterization with perception and good acting.

Watching these actors and the playwright cross over the edge of their multiple precipices without hurtling to their deaths is quite rewarding – and fun too.

By: Rodger Skidmore
Opening night of “Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike”
January 24, 2014 at 8 pm


Rodger Skidmore is also a commentator for “The Sarasota News Leader”

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