Comic joys and boy-toys

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Scripps Ranch Theatre

Castmembers of Vanya and Sonia and Masha, and Spike
  • Castmembers of Vanya and Sonia and Masha, and Spike
  • photo by Ken Jacques

According to Christopher Durang, author of Vanya and Sonia and Masha, and Spike, “My play is not a Chekhov parody. I take Chekhov scenes and characters and put them in a blender.”

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Although his characters have the same names as some of Chekhov’s, they only share some personality traits and are fully imagined by Durang. In Scripps Ranch Theatre’s current production of this black comedy about unhappy siblings, we have a stunning evening of theater, real under all the intended artifice.

While Vanya began as a one-act, it has become a many-faceted, full-length work with substance, surprising insight, and integrity. And though often characterized as a sunny play about gloomy people, it has darker elements that pervade the themes, chiefly about isolation of the outsiders in a family and the disillusion of underachievers.

Kathy Brombacher directs with a magical touch, somehow managing to make the characters, and their sometimes unexpected motivations, mesh. Dana Hooley, magnificent as Sonia, the adopted sister of the family, displays pathetic, charming, and quirky qualities at the same time, and has flights of fancy unique to her psyche. Sure-footed in her portrayal, Hooley inhabits her character with apparent ease.

Tom Hall gives a masterful performance as Vanya, the continually depressed and disillusioned brother who, ironically, wants everyone else to “be happy.” His nuances for the role are so well chosen he transcends the script in many ways.

Wendy Waddell, as Masha, the one successful sibling, gives an outstanding performance that satirizes the phony, artificial quality of a fading movie star — and yet there’s an element of reality deep beneath the surface. Watching these three consummate actors resembles auditing a master class in acting.

Li-Anne Rowswell makes Cassandra, the soothsaying housekeeper, a comic joy. Virginia Gregg shines brightly as the ingenuous ingénue, Nina, while Adam Daniel, as Spike, Masha’s boy-toy of the moment, deftly steals some scenes away from the leads. Though his character, sketched as cardboard silly and funny erotic, has an oddly childlike innocence that emerges occasionally.

Bob Shuttleworth’s amazing set design gives us a cozy Eastern farmhouse living room surrounded by the beauty of nature. He even includes a suggestion of the path to the pond and the rustic stonework on the outside of the house.

Durang is not noted for conjuring up warm or fuzzy feelings in the audience. But Brombacher and her team manage to capture a warm familial tone at the play’s somewhat quiet ending.

Playing through October 9

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