The opening night performance of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by the Vagabond Players in America’s oldest continuously operating theater in historic Fells Point turned out to be a festive gathering of relatives and friends complete with food, merriment, and lots of gossip.
Baltimore audiences are different from fans in other locations – the Kennedy Center has the politicos, Strathmore has the dedicated music aficionados, and Columbia, a younger generation of theatergoers. Here in this cozy, 90-seat venue, local actors mix with the pros, supporters shake hands with newcomers, and critics sit back and observe.
Christopher Durang’s 2013 Chekhov-inspired play delighted the mixed audience last night with a story of family, theatrics, and mainly the changing world. There was a Russian theme, of course, quite apropos to our daily newscasts, and it was a hoot to laugh at jokes that middle-aged folks (and older) could enjoy.
The skits come one after another with punch lines: “I hate my life…I have never been in love,” says Sonia, the adopted daughter in this somewhat maladjusted clan. “At least you have been married five times,” she shouts at her sister Masha, who has brought her boy toy (Spike) to the cottage (she owns and wants to sell) and constantly worries that he will flirt with every young woman he encounters (or her brother). And he does, of course.
Spike prances about in his briefs and manages to show off his buff body to anyone watching – the audience as well as characters on stage, especially “Uncle Vanya,” as he is familiarly called by the young ingénue who poses a threat to the aging actress. Quiet and mostly reading a book, with only a few barbs saved for his sisters, Vanya finally breaks loose and rants about the changing world.
“We licked stamps,” he shouts to anyone listening – Spike fiddling with his phone.“We all watched TV together, Ozzie & Harriet, Ed Sullivan, and The Mickey Mouse Club. Nobody tweeted or twittered.”
He grumbles that his late parents, both professors, named their children after Chekhov characters, with numerous references the The Cherry Orchard and jokes about returning to Moscow…although nobody wants to go there.
Funny, too, are the outlandish costumes, especially the Snow White dress, wig, and dwarfs outfits, thanks to Mary Bova. The set, all white with pastel trim, flowers downstage right, and comfy chairs for Sonia and Vanya to snuggle on, was constructed by Moe Conn and Jay Demarco. It made us feel as if we, too, might see the heron by the pond where their “cherry orchard” is located.
Kudos to Director Steve Goldklang for casting three veteran actors, Eric C. Stein (Vanya), Lynda McClary (Sonia), and Holly Pasciullo as the aging diva Masha – always a hoot in a production of this Tony Award-winning play. The three younger performers, who all made their debut in this Vagabond production, may need to hone their skills a bit more and pick up some pointers from their senior peers.
In each play we generally find a “scene stealer.” This time around, it goes to Lynda MClary when she dons her sequins and tiara to become Maggie Smith at her first party in 20 years. I believed her and was rooting for Sonia to take off with Joe, though we never see him.
Grace O’Keefe plays sweet young Nina with grace and aplomb. Lansing O’Leary demonstrates an athletic touch to Spike not seen in previous renditions. Rachel Reckling shows her voodoo side when she bellows, “Beware of Hootie Pie!” at the very first moment she enters the bucolic Buck’s County home where Vanya and Sonia have lived together following their parents’ deaths.
Yes, there were some glitches, which will hopefully be fixed by next weekend. And you might need to take an Uber, as parking is tough in the neighborhood. All in all, this is a nice addition to Vagabond’s 102nd season, which will close out next month with Bad Jews, starting on May 25.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.