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Arts & Culture

Bob Goepfert Reviews "Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike"

Anton Chekhov often complained that the comedies he wrote were often turned into serious dramas by actors and directors. 

Christopher Durang who wrote “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” might have the same complaint about the production of his play at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham that runs through June 27.

The cast under the direction of Chris Foster has taken a frothy play fun with characters from the names of characters associated with themes by Chekhov and turned it into, what else, a moody Chekhovian drama. 

But all is not lost.  Though Durang is no Chekhov, he is a good writer and “Vanya and Sonia” tells a warm story about a dysfunctional family that includes humor and even some laughter.   It might not be as funny as it should be, but neither is it an unpleasant experience.

“Vanya, Sonia, et all,” is about people who have no present because they can’t let go of the past and, thus, fear the future.

The work concerns three siblings who live a life without dreams.  Vanya and Sonia live together in a quarrelsome relationship.  Neither has to work because they live in a house owned by their sister, Masha, a famous but untalented actress.  She comes home for a visit with her boy-toy Spike and reveals to all that she plans to sell the house which will leave her brother and sister stranded.

Obviously if you play the plot with too much realism it will not be funny.   The humor must come from the way characters are detached from life and their own shortcomings.  It  works better if the characters are discontent rather than being dour and unhappy.  Director Foster permits his players to seem bedded in an existentialist reality and the humor is forced.

Fortunately the core material is sturdy enough to overcome the lack of laughter in the production.  The actors all offer performances that are true to their characters.   The choices may be misguided but they are consistent.

The choices can even seem legitimate.  Roseann Cane plays Sonia as a woman who has been denied a life. Now in her 50s Sonia has never known love – not from her siblings or her parents who adopted her at age six.  Because Cane plays Sonia as a bitter and angry woman it is difficult to care about the character. 

It is not until her sensitive second act monologue, which is tenderly delivered, that we can care about Sonya.  Even then the prevailing thought is, “Where has that woman been all night?”

In much the same way Kris Anderson plays the brother Vanya as a negative man who appears to enjoy spending his times bickering with Sonia and finding fault with everything in life.  Anderson does have great comic delivery and his second act monologue becomes the highlight of the show.  It not only explains the character of Vanya, it defines the purpose of the play.  

Christina Reeves is the self-centered Masha who has little interest in the concerns of others.   Her portrayal is right on.  Sometimes too right on, as often Masha is more bitchy than comical.

The play includes Cassandra, a housekeeper with a flawed gift for prophecy.  Mary Darcy, plays the over-the-top character with an accent that - to be kind – can be described as original.  Ryan Davis plays the young muscular man as a person for whom being called shallow would mean self-improvement.  Cori Irwin’s Nina, (the kind, sincere young female neighbor) is the only normal or likeable person in the play.

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at Curtain Call Theatre, Latham through June 27.  Performances 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays.  877-7529. 

Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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