Review: ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ at Providence Players of Fairfax

The open living room has a well-lived in look: easy chairs, love seat, kitchen nook off to the side, and plenty of collected knick-knacks. It’s a cozy setting for an adolescent argument, except the witty repartee is between a brother and his adopted sister, well into their 50’s. Vanya (Christian D. Faulkner) and Sonia (Jayne Victor) have been caretakers these past 15 years.

Connie Shabshab, Ari Post, Christen D. Faulkner, and Lindsey Doane. Photo by Chip Gertzog.

In Christopher Durang’s 2012 Tony Award-winning comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, directed by Jimmy Gertzog, Vanya and Sonia are siblings that have anchored ‘home,’ taking care of ailing parents while sister Masha has gone on to fame as an actress. Set design by John Coscia makes the room substantial with tiered stairs and ornamental details, and you notice the effort. Many hands are on deck for set construction.

It is with this inclusive steady resolve that The Providence Players of Fairfax has a successful place in the community as a theater for everyone.

Connie Shabshab, Christen D. Faulkner, and Jayne Victor. Photo by Chip Gertzog.

It’s early morning and Sonia is “mourning for her life.” In twists and turns of fond memories, Sonia recalls her parents, now passed away and their love for Chekhov, reflected in the chosen names of their children. Sonia is in pieces, shattered, somewhat okay, but grieving with a sarcastic wit for what could have been.

Jayne Victor is striking with a dry wit that hits the mark; pessimistic jargon delivered to hilarious effect. The moments of back-and-forth exchange with Christian D. Faulkner find a note of comforting discord, as if with an old friend who can read you no matter what.

Cassandra (played by Rachel Arling Samson) is the clairvoyant cleaning lady, there to pick up the fragments, and foretell the future. She energizes the household and doesn’t let the dust settle. Rachel Arling Samson’s grounded presence is daring, whether it is a forceful strike at the air or jab at a voodoo doll Cassandra is lavender, and blues, flowing through the household taking care of tasks, while Sonia in brown, baggy sweater, hunkers down longing for a glimpse of a blue heron and with so much free time she can’t make decisions. Costumes by Roxanne Waite bolster the characters, from sloppy night shirt to beaded evening dress.

Masha (Connie Shabshab) shows up for the weekend, loud as her leopard prints, and the center of attention. Connie Shabshab brings a hearty portrayal of an older woman, often sparking the humor with opulent presence in reaction to ordinariness. She is arm-in-arm with boy toy Spike (Ari Post) who soon strips down to underwear, demanding attention, making the others squirm. Masha is not able to hold onto husbands and Spike is not about to wear clothes. Ari Post does push-ups, flexes, and completes a reverse strip tease. He’s engaging as the one jumping over the sofa, somehow managing to land on his feet.

There is a costume party for the evening, ideas orchestrated by Masha. Vanya is reduced to an elf to Masha’s Snow White while the others grasp at the possibilities. New friend Nina (Lindsey Doane) has met Spike on his recent outing for a swim. She is young and fresh and hopeful, a glass half-full kind of person, sincerely pleased to have met a famous actress, and thrilled to be invited.

It is in the spaces between what is heard and said, that Nina (Lindsey Doane) generates heartfelt responses. The gap between listening and responding transforms her conversation with Vanya as he honestly explains his own creative endeavor.

The party aftermath brings an informal reading of Vanya’s experimental play, filled with subtext, and fueled by ideas from Chekhov’s The Seagull. The scene abounds with wordplay, humorous tableau, and erupting emotion. Christian D. Faulkner as Vanya plows forward into a wonderful tirade brought on by the notion of multi-tasking in comparison to the old ways of doing things like the ‘licking of a postage stamp.’

The disconnected lives of the three siblings find reasons to unite. Flaws and misunderstandings, jealousies, and desires are ongoing, but a family is a family, and there is hope for the new day.

Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike plays through June 17, 2017, at Providence Players of Fairfax performing at the James Lee Community Center Theater – 2855 Annandale Road in Falls Church. For tickets, call (703) 820-9771 or purchase them online.

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