Colonial Players of Annapolis’ production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a hilarious reimagining of Chekhov in 21st Century Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Written by Christopher Durang and directed by Steve Tobin, it is a delightful meld of great acting, directing, lighting, and staging – a terrific show for Colonial Players to end their 68th season.
Darice Clewell plays Sonia with a sadness bordering on the melodramatic, which is also extremely funny to watch. She moans in her chair, “in mourning for her life.” At one point, she exclaims “I am a wild turkey,” and begins walking about and moving her head like one. Two coffee cups meet their end at her hands. She also does a hilarious impression of Maggie Smith, in a particular context.
And yet, there is a real heart to her comedic suffering. A mature woman who never really got to experience life, she is filled with longing and desire, her language often reminiscent of Chekhov. She gives one of her strongest performances late in the play, when, speaking on the phone, an opportunity presents itself for possible happiness; hope, fear, and wonder all go through her voice as she speaks, and builds the suspense to an almost unbearable level. She is a mixture of both laughter and tears.
Jim Reiter gives Vanya a sense of wry amusement at Sonia’s antics, mixed with occasional exasperation. At one point he exclaims, “You put your feelings all over the place. It’s exhausting being around you!” While certainly not quiet, he is not as expressive as many of the other characters, and comes across as more stable. Like Sonia, he has also led an isolated existence, filled with artistic creativity and ambition, which he slowly reveals.
His best performance is towards the end, in a long, comedic rant against “multitasking” which incorporates licking stamps, old television shows, and “the way things used to be.” It begins in anger and frustration but quickly moves to reminiscing and a sort of unburdening of himself. Heartfelt and funny all at once, it ends with an embarrassed apology and great applause from the audience.
Rebecca Kyler Downs plays Masha as self-involved, with a hidden strength. A commercially successful movie star, she makes everything about herself. Explaining to Sonia and Vanya how she was distracted from speaking to them, she practically shakes Sonia in her attempt to be sincere. When her attempts to unify a costume theme revolving around her choice gets frustrated, the anger and resentment is clear in her body and voice. There is a deep sadness to her as well. Married five times, she wonders why men keep leaving her. She is almost constantly on edge with her current relationship, jealousy and anxiety consuming her. She has a good long cry with Sonia over the emptiness of her life. In a scene towards the end, though, she finds her fierceness, venting her wrath.
Patrick Finn plays Spike, Masha’s much younger boyfriend, with great physicality and youthful energy. He is nearly always moving around the stage, frequently in his underwear. He puts on his clothes in a “reverse striptease” that is arresting to watch in how much he can move; two of the other characters enjoy it as well. An actor, he reenacts his audition for a role on Entourage, which is delivered with a seriousness that contrasts with his relaxed, casual attitude throughout most of the play. He enjoys life, taking its pleasures as much as possible without thinking about it.
Hallie Parrott plays Nina, a young neighbor, with sweetness and innocence. An aspiring actress, she is smitten with Masha, eagerly going along with anything the older woman suggests, happily changing her outfit to fit Masha’s theme. She especially bonds with Vanya, calling him “Uncle Vanya” and drawing out his creativity, eagerly participating in his wild artistic venture. She brings light and joy to this dysfunctional family.
Ashley Spooner is comedic joy as Cassandra, the cleaning woman. She begins the show by interrupting the recorded announcements, and giving her own unique take on the “house rules”. Stalking the stage, she utters bizarre pronouncements in the most dramatic way possible. In one scene, she and Vanya bond over her unusual (yet effective) way of torturing Masha. She is great fun to watch, and always gets big laughs.
Edd Miller has done a terrific job as Set and Floor Designer, creating a delightful house in light and dark blues and whites. Two upholstered chairs take up the center, while a window ledge with pillows sits across from them. A small gate leads to the outside, with porch chairs and a table. Above the audience’s entrance are boughs of cherry blossoms.
Alex Brady has done a wonderful job as Lighting Designer, letting the light reflect the changing mood, and giving a dramatic effect to some of Cassandra’s prophecies.
Kaelynn Bedsworth and Carrie Brady are great Costume Designers. Masha begins the play wearing tight blue jeans, black shirt, and red high heels. Her costume for the party allows for great physical comedy with the center chairs. Sonia wears slippers, a white nightgown, and a blue bathrobe, later changing into a blue evening gown with black shoulder-length gloves, tiara, and cigarette holder. Spike wears blue jeans and a t-shirt, but shows off his colorful, tight underwear.
Steve Tobin’s direction allows the actors to work well with each other, and hit all the right comic notes. Everything flows naturally and easily. Chekhov fans will chuckle at all the references in the play. All the elements come together for an evening of comedy, while leaving something to think about after the show.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with a 15- minute intermission.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike plays through June 10, 2017, at Colonial Players of Annapolis – 108 East Street in Annapolis. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 268-7373 or purchase them online.