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Review: ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ at Cockpit in Court

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This hot, summery production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (VSMS), a production of Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre, is a spicy show you definitely want to… Chekhov… your bucket list.

Patrick Martyn and Laura Weeldreyer. Photo by Tom Lauer.

This hilarious comedy, written by Christopher Durang and deftly directed by Linda Chambers, with the support of a superb cast and crew, is a hoot.

A hit on Broadway in 2013, it won that’s year’s Tony Award for Best Play and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play. VSMS arrived on the Great White Way shortly after its 2012 debut in Princeton, New Jersey, and is as timely as the latest TV news broadcast.

Durang wrote the script, with a wink and a poke to Anton Chekhov’s plays, among them Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard, and, even, references to Uncle Vanya.

Several characters deliver poignant monologues that keep the audience riveted to their seats – and nodding their heads in agreement.

The plot revolves around three troubled siblings in late middle age, each bearing names of classic Chekhov characters. Two of them live in an old Bucks County, Pennsylvania farmhouse, surrounded by a cherry orchard. Though, a running gag is how many cherry trees are needed to constitute an orchard. This one has about nine.

The set is small, intimate and an ingenious design by Scenic Designer/Artist G. Maurice “Moe” Conn. A small slightly raised wooden plank stage has four paths leading away from the center. At the end of each pathway is a large box that doubles as a mini-backstage and, from the front, is either a window with a view of a pond, a second window overlooking the cherry trees, an entry to an unseen kitchen and bedrooms, or the front doorway. The stage itself is a morning room set with casual white cane indoor-outdoor furniture around an oval braided rag carpet.

Alyson Shirk, the show’s costume designer, accurately interpreted each character’s personality with the well-made and often colorful attire.

This was my first visit to the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC). A large crowd swirled around the lobby of the Robert and Eleanor Romandka College Center building. Approaching the doors of the Mainstage theater, an usher said, “Oh no! Your tickets are not for here. They are for upstairs in the Cabaret.” Puzzled, I headed up the stairs. Were we being sent to a balcony? A room with live-streaming video? The Cabaret, where VSMS is staged, seats 160 at small wooden tables for four.

The cast of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Photo by Tom Lauer.

Seriously, to enjoy VSMS, you don’t have to know bupkus about Chekhov. If you’ve ever had a competitive sibling, this should resonate with you.

Vanya, Sonia, and Masha are 50-something siblings approaching their golden years. Sonia, in a needy, emotional rendition by Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, was adopted when she was eight, and is attracted to Vanya.

Patrick Martyn wears his character Vanya like a second skin. He owns the role. Vanya explains he’s gay by subtly stating, “I march to a different drummer.”

“Can’t we march together with a piccolo?” is Sonia’s plaintive retort.

The two sibs live a lonely existence. They grew up in the old farmhouse and spent the prime years of adulthood as caretakers for their parents, former college professors involved in community theater, as they slid slowly into dementia and death. Now, devoid of a livelihood or training, they sit alone and lonely in the old house. Their sharp yet hysterical exchanges and witty arguments are over petty matters. The verbal tussle over a morning coffee results in an angry tantrum. Twice.

“It’s no big deal,” says Vanya. “I’m just making pleasant conversation.”

Their catty chatter switches to their sister Masha, whom they haven’t seen in a long while. Masha is a well-known movie actress. Living the lifestyle of the rich and famous, she has had five failed marriages and is a self-centered, attention-grabbing drama queen.

Vanya and Sonia’s increasingly uproarious verbal ping pong is interrupted by the spooky, over-the-top housekeeper Cassandra (Laura Weeldreyer), who echoes her mythological namesake, the ancient Trojan prophetess, with strange out-of-the-blue predictions.

And she’s full of them today.

One immediately comes true as Masha makes a sudden appearance, radiating glamorous elegance, with her new hunky boy toy, Spike (the buff Tim Neil) in tow.

Tim Neil and Holly Pasciullo. Photo by Tom Lauer.

Masha isn’t there to see how her siblings are faring on the subsidies she provides. Instead, she was invited to a costume party nearby and has arrived with outfits for her entourage – Spike, Vanya and Sonia – to wear. Of course, since she is the famous one, who must be the center of attention, all the other costumes are related to hers.

Sonia has other plans.

Spike, a young actor who “was almost cast on Entourage 2” quickly gets bored. To the audience’s delight, he strips and runs off to jump in the pond.

As she prepares for the party, Masha casually dishes up some devastating news for her siblings, and has no plans to sugarcoat it.

When Spike returns from the pond, he brings a new friend along, Nina (Anna Steurerman), a breathtakingly beautiful, dewy, wide-eyed, star-struck young innocent.

Masha takes an instant dislike to this new competition.

But, Spike seems to like her. A lot.

The plot continues to swirl through the weekend, with at least one hysterical laugh line or sharp comment – or voodoo needle – every few seconds.

The monologue delivered by a weary Vanya in which he references TV shows and heroes of yesteryear and the phone call that Sonia receives from a stranger are priceless.

Plus, for any young adults in the audience, the loud IM Spike receives on his cell phone is a good reminder to turn your electronics off if you’ve got something sneaky going on.

Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Vanya and Sasha and Maya and Spike plays through August 6, 2017, at the Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre performing at the Community College of Baltimore County, Essex – 7201 Rossville Boulevard, in Baltimore, Maryland, MD. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (443-840-2787), or purchase them online.

NOTE: To enhance the cabaret experience, audience members are encouraged to bring drinks and snacks purchased in the lobby to their tables.

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