Review: ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ at Prince George’s Little Theatre

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang, currently showing at Prince George’s Little Theatre in Bowie, is a comedy of zany characters that are caught up in their own personas. Director Estelle Miller and Producer and Set Designer Roy Peterson test family dynamics when movie-star sister, Masha (Jo Sullivan) happens on the doorstep of her middle-aged siblings Vanya (Scott Beadle) and adopted sister Sonia (Debbie Samek) where they share their family home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

In the opening scene, Vanya and Sonia establish the “woe is me” mood that their lives are unfulfilling. Sonia is down and out that she is 52 and single. It shows in her frumpy two-sizes-too-big sleepwear and too-casual casualwear. Samek has her character shuffling her feet across the floor, slouching her shoulders, and throwing coffee mugs across the room, and that’s just in the first 10 minutes of the play.

The cast: : L to R Debbie Samek (Sonia), Jo Sullivan (Masha), Josh Huff-Edsall (Spike), Scott Beadle (Vanya), Nicole Musho (Nina), and Sandra True (Cassandra). Photo by Andrew Culhane.
The cast: L to R: Debbie Samek (Sonia), Jo Sullivan (Masha), Josh Huff-Edsall (Spike), Scott Beadle (Vanya), Nicole Musho (Nina), and Sandra True (Cassandra). Photo by Andrew Culhane.

Sonia is quirky and yet her quirkiness eludes her when she dresses up for the costume party a neighbor is hosting. She goes from shabby to chic and so does her attitude. Donning a sparkling sequin top, a long black skirt, heels, and a shimmering crown, Samek brings out the playfulness in Sonia with cute little head bops, tiny shoulder shrugs, and flowing movement across the stage.

Vanya is the matter-of-fact brother with little desire to do much with his life. He hangs out in his pajamas and flannel plaid robe that seems to hide his sadness. Both he and Sonia took care of their ailing Alzheimer parents with no acknowledgement from Masha, which in turn makes him the peace-keeper between his sisters. Additionally, he is gay and while it’s not an issue it becomes a hot topic when he reveals he’s written a play.

Here, a shift occurs in Vanya and he goes from timid to courageous. Beadle is masterful with this  soliloquy as Vanya touches on so many issues in today’s society that many want to say out loud–one being too much social media-but are too afraid. It’s a beautiful homage to the 1950s, the days of yesteryear, and how Vanya longs for the corny comedy of I Love Lucy and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. He talks of the times when we actually had to dial a telephone and didn’t have 700 cable channels of worthless entertainment. Sadly, he talks of Mouseketeer Tommy Kirk who was fired for being gay. Beadle is remarkable with his powerful voice and tense body language and at the end of his scolding of Spike, one would have been able to hear a pin drop. Simply brilliant.

The arrival of Masha puts Vanya and Sonia into more of a stupor as Masha parades her boyfriend Spike (Josh Huff) – emphasis on “boy” – who is easily 20 years her junior. A successful movie star both on a production stage and theater stage, Masha is elegant yet extremely insecure. It’s all about her and everyone around her that should be falling all over her but don’t. Sullivan is stunningly poised in her classy ensembles, flamboyant body language, and the snooty tone in her drawl (darrr-ling). Sullivan transitions Masha from being depressed about five failed marriages to the realization that she needs more than a cheating boy-toy. She needs her brother and sister.

Spike is full of ego and himself. His claim to fame is that he almost got cast in Entourage 2. Huff playing Spike the actor is hilarious and applause to Huff for being able to play Spike as a bad actor. Spike is very comfortable in his own skin and spends a considerable amount of time in only his briefs. He is hottie-Mchottie and knows it. Huff and Sullivan together, with their considerable age difference, share a saucy chemistry that emanates across the stage.

Eccentric and professed psychic Cassandra (Sandra True) is Vanya and Sonia’s housekeeper. An elder woman, her talk seems gibberish as she makes predictions about the house, Vanya and Sonia’s financial future, and to be aware of Hootie-Pie. True is talented with her comedic timing and voodoo antics. A likable character, her outfits (tops and skirts) are full of bright colors that match Cassandra’s feisty personality.

Nina (Nicole Musho) is visiting her aunt and uncle who live next door to Vanya and Sonia. A perky 20-something, who is enamored with Masha, wants to be an actress as well. While Nina’s innocent intentions are understandable, this character is an intolerable suck-up. She flirts with Spike, fawns over Masha, and oddly comes to call Vanya, Uncle Vanya. Musho was cute in her summer dress and beautiful in her turquoise sequin and satin gown that is until Masha tells her to dress as Dopey for the costume party.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike takes place in the home of Vanya and Sonia’s living room, designed by Director Estelle Miller. The furniture is comprised of vintage chairs and love sofa, a china cabinet, and wooden tables. The fireplace is made of gray stone that stands next to the double front doors. Potted plants dress the room as well.

Debbie Samek, Scott Beadle, and Nicole Musho. Photo by Andrew Culhane.
Debbie Samek, Scott Beadle, and Nicole Musho. Photo by Andrew Culhane.

Fine work is done by Lighting Designer Garrett Hyde and Sound Designer Mark Bennett. Original Music adds to the cohesiveness of the technical aspects. The sound of a car pulling up to the house is at the right audio level (not too loud) and perfectly timed. Gayle Negri is Costume, Hair, and Make-up Designer and she dresses Masha as a very classy Snow White, Vanya as dwarf Doc, and Spike as Prince Charming.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a funny character exploration of being too caught up in one’s self to not notice what is important – family and friends you can trust. Loosely based on elements from the works of Anton Chekhov such as character names, the cherry orchard setting, and the possible loss of an ancestral home, one does not need to be a Chekhov aficionado to appreciate Christopher Durang’s humor.

Full of kooky characters and whacky themes, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a night of theatre that is both humorous and entertaining.

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

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Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike plays through January 23, 2016 at Prince George’s Little Theatre performing at the Bowie Playhouse – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, Maryland. For tickets, call (301) 937-7458, buy them at the box office, or purchase them online.

LINK:
Prince George’s Little Theatre Opens ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Bowie Playhouse Tonight.

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Danielle Angeline
Danielle Angeline was bit by the theater bug when she took a set design class in college. Her instructor reminded her of George Michael (Got to Have Faith). She then decided to major in technical theater and design at Towson State University. After graduating, this led her to work at Universal Studios Florida and the Carnival Cruise Lines as a stage manager, group coordinator and arcade manager. Returning home to Maryland, her career transitioned from CAD work to a technical writer/trainer for the past 15 years. During that time, Danielle volunteered as an Information Specialist with the Smithsonian. Museum assignments included Natural History, Portrait Gallery, and the Castle. She is now pursuing her theatre/arts career again as a writer and dedicating herself to her greatest passions: theatre, writing, family & friends, painting, tasty & innovative cuisine and her cats: Cheyanne and Sierra.