Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
By Shadow Theatre
Runs until Sunday, May 19
At Varscona Theatre
10329 – 83 Ave.
Tickets: Start at $22 Visit www.shadowtheatre.org
I have a Slavic name and heritage, but despite my paternal culture, I have never been drawn to Chekhov. In fact, my knowledge of the great Russian playwright is pretty sparse.
Despite my lack of knowledge, I thoroughly enjoyed American playwright Christopher Durang’s hilariously absurd comedy, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, now playing at Varscona Theatre until Sunday, May 19.
Shadow Theatre’s production of this two-act is filled with character names and casual references to Chekhov that in no way alters the laugh-a-minute comedy about dysfunctional siblings that are at a crossroad in their lives. The trio is faced with middle age and it is a downer.
Under the direction of John Hudson, the comedy has many over-the-top moments that make it a superbly entertaining play. And the six-member cast brings to life dialogue filled with sassy wit that is surprisingly deep and contemplative.
We first meet Vanya (John Sproule) and Sonia (Coralie Cairns) as they wake up to a typical day at their cosy country house. In this slow-paced life the siblings bicker while sipping coffee and watch life pass by.
The house is a sanctuary and out of necessity they’ve adapted to each other’s idiosyncrasies. Sonia, a glass-half-empty gal, is particularly gloomy, much to Vanya’s chagrin and eye rolls.
For 15 years, they invested their lives tending to elderly parents, both professors and theatre aficionados. Once they passed away, the siblings remained in their childhood home.
The duo enjoys an easy lifestyle thanks to a third sibling, Masha (Davina Stewart), a famous film star who pays all the expenses related to the home including the services of a psychic maid appropriately named Cassandra (Michelle Todd).
When Masha shows up with Spike, (Jamie Cavanagh), a hot boy-toy half her age, old resentments flare and unsettled grievances float to the surface.
Stewart delightfully parodies the self-absorbed, insecure celebrity desperately hanging on to youth and fame. Her fifth marriage just collapsed and a once-lucrative film career is slipping away.
While Masha hopelessly tries to convince everyone of her relevance, Cavanagh’s Spike is a ball of simple-minded sexualized masculinity. He readily strips and his pelvic thrusts astonish the aging household. In his presence, everyone is reminded how old they really are.
After skinny-dipping in the lake, Spike brings home Nina (Rachel Bowron), an aspiring actress whose sweet youthfulness immediately poses a threat to Masha.
The powerful cast’s snappy back-and-forth banter comes off naturally. Yet there are moments of deep emotion that grab the heart.
One such instance is a telephone call from a gentleman Sonia met at a party asking for a dinner date. At first Sonia treats it as a mistake. But as the conversation progresses, Cairns reveals an incredible arsenal of emotions. Watching her deftly shift from surprise and disbelief to appreciation and confidence, creates a tender moment of a spunky woman breaking through her cocoon.
At another point, Vanya bursts into a tirade about today’s scary world that is sad, sincere and oh so vulnerable. He projects his fears for a technology-based future while yearning deeply for a past that can never be recreated.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is packed with an incredible cast of witty talents, and this is one entertaining show I wouldn’t mind seeing again.