VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE by Christopher Durang
BORELIANS COMMUNITY THEATRE
Produced by Kyle Brough and Helen Coughlin, Staged Managed by Liz Auston, Directed by John Lunman
Kudos to The Borelians of Port Perry once again for selecting another ‘actor play’ this season. Currently in performance until February 25 is Christopher Durang’s VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, a quirky and absurd comedy especially if you have some knowledge of Anton Chekov’s dramatic masterpieces. The names of the characters in VANYA come from some of the Russian playwright’s other works; however, to appreciate the humour of VANYA, you do not need to understand Chekhov’s style, but it would most certainly be advantageous in some of the context of this particular production.
VANYA is not an easy work to stage as there are layers of text and subtext of weirdness and oddity to decipher and to unravel. As Director, John Lunman’s extensive background in the performing arts assists him tremendously in his journey to bring his cast to convey to audiences that VANYA is ‘a very human comedy of people who are trapped in their life choices; people afraid to follow their heart’s desires.’
Lorenz Werkmeister’s set design is an actor’s dream upon which to perform. His construction team has worked diligently to create a visually pleasing room from every angle in the Town Hall auditorium. Every inch of the stage is used for a specific purpose in this production.
Helen Coughlin and Kyle Brough’s work in props, décor and sound design complement effectively the playing space for the actors. Andre Grander’s lighting design is subtle while clearly focusing our attention on the central action of the scene. The use of music from the Beatles placed smiles on some of the faces of the audience, while a few of us either hummed or sang along quietly.
There are some delightful performance moments. As Masha’s oversexed boy toy Spike, Kyle Dickie is considerable bravado while being very comfortable for appearing, at times, in his underwear. His real life wife Justine appears as Nina, the sweet neighbour and up and coming actress, who inspires a highly charged lust in Spike.
Ms. Dickie has a lovely and clear speaking voice. We always root for Nina especially in those moments either where she reveals her fears to Vanya whom she affectionately calls ‘uncle’ or in those moments where she is eschewed by the jealous ‘has been’ actress and drama queen, Masha. With those moments called for in the script where Nina and Spike are to ogle each other, I’m certain this husband and wife, and audience members in the know, have great fun in watching the sexual chemistry unfold.
Alexandra Hines is Cassandra, the eccentric and very peculiar housekeeper for Vanya and Sonia, who constantly predicts direly what will happen in the future for many of the characters. Ms. Hines is quite amusing to watch especially in those moments where Cassandra appears unexpectedly from nowhere for comic effect.
Critic Patrick Healy of The New York Times called this play ‘a black comedy about unhappy siblings’. As the play opens, we are introduced to Vanya (Colin Murphy) and adopted sister, Sonia (Cheryl Tulloch) who appear gloomily to be content just to sit and, at times, do nothing. Their pretentious sister who always craves an audience, Masha (Joanne Norman) returns home for a visit and announces that all three along with Spike, in tow, (and later with Nina) will attend a costume party at the house of the late writer Dorothy Parker who led a very tempestuous and sad life.
When this information is revealed to the audience, it is here that a strong directorial vision of ‘absurd comedy’ is tantamount to the success of this play. Attendance at this ‘costume party’ results in misunderstandings and miscomprehension for all involved. Ms. Tulloch relishes in the moment of appearing as Maggie Smith as the Wicked Queen in Snow White. Ms. Norman appears as Snow White who is hilariously mistaken by Nina as Norma Desmond from the film version of Sunset Blvd. Mr. Murphy appears as one of Snow White’s dwarves while trying to maintain peace amidst all of this confusion.
Mr. Murphy, Ms. Tulloch and Ms. Norman are accomplished local actors who render sufficiently good performances. Nevertheless, there were moments from the first Saturday evening show where pacing falters especially in the second act where Mr. Murphy has to deliver a 3-4 page monologue. This quibble might be for the fact the actors are tired as they and the crew are coming off their tech week along with a matinee performance earlier in the day.
This is only one area that will need some possible tightening up before performances continue again this coming week. The Borelians’ production is definitely worth seeing. For the two and half hours, we are living our lives through these people, and we are most certainly glad we are not these people.
VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE continues February 23, 24 and 25 at 8 pm with a 2 pm matinee on February 25. Tickets may be purchased at the box at Port Perry’s Town Hall 1873, 302 Queen Street. For further information, please visit Borelians or the Town Hall site.