Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang. Directed by Steve Stettler. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"I feel so fortunate. You're all so nice to me here."
Brandon Drea and Haley Bond; photo: Humbert Schriebl
Here's something really rather new: a middle-aged actress with a boy-toy actor/lover pays a visit to her spinster sister and her reluctantly gay brother and almost loses this guy to a young aspiring actress who is almost as vague as as he is. When she does lose him, or drops him, it turns out that the headache she'd been having during their affair wasn't being cured by him (either by sex or massage) but was being caused by him. Considering he spends a great deal of this play either taking off his clothes or slowly putting them back on, it is easy to understand the headache.
Written by Christopher Durang, known for his saucy view of the American society, this play, "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," shows us life on the straggler's side. Sonia and Vanya truly have no lives to celebrate. After fifteen years of caring for their parents, both suffering with Alzheimer's Disease, they have done nothing with their own lives and are living together in fear of never accomplishing anything. They resent their sister Masha who is a movie star actress with a truncated career (but a life! ) and they hate the fact that the home they inhabit is owned by her alone and that she wants to sell it out from under them.
Masha's boyfriend Spike, played by Brandon Drea in this production at the Weston Playhouse in Weston, Vermont, is a bizarre catalyst for Vanya to speak out about his views on life. Drea is a sexual monkey, bumping and grinding and tweaking and texting, always at the most inappropriate moments. He takes the pride this man has in his appearance and turns it into a pure Burlesque turn. He is wonderfully funny, handsome and weird, all at the same time.
The girl he sets out to impress is an impressionable girl upon whom nothing really makes an impression. Her name is Nina and she is played to human perfection by Haley Bond. Named for Chekhov's character Nina in "The Sea Gull" she almost plays out that character's personal problems in her own life. The vaccuousness that Bond employs in her interpretation is sweetly personable. It sets her distinctly apart from the other characters on stage and that is terrific.
In a usually scorned manner in this era of political correctness, Durang has created a cleaning woman, who is Black and performs VooDoo when necessary named Cassandra. I have known the finest black actresses on the New York stage who, over the last forty years, have refused to play cleaning women, considering those roles to be too stereotypical. But Durang has an appeal that cannot be countered by any strict policy and Deonna Bouya performs the role with panache and wit and style and even some derring-do and leaves us with the impression of having seen a performance by Eleonora Duse or Sarah Bernhardt. Bouya is so wonderful as the passionate serving woman that anything less sophisticated for her in the future will seem like a let-down.
Her voyage into VooDoo witchcraft is as delicious as a Vermont maple confection. Her conversion energy, as she turns around her relationship with Masha, is nothing less than comic fire. They could throw away the play, most of the characters and just leave the stage to this woman and the show would still be a hit.
David Bonanno and Deonna Bouye; photo: Hubert Schriebl
Susan Haefner, David Bonanno, Amelia White; photo: Hubert Schriebl
Masha's selfishness isn't all that it seems at first and as played by Susan Haefner Masha is a host of contridictions made all right by her ultimate slip into sincerity. The actress here has a great deal of delicate balancing in the role, and she manages it wonderfully, particularly in the crying scene (see photo). Haefner is a fine substitute for the haughtiness of the original actress, Sigourney Weaver. Weaver has met her match here, essentially.
Brother Vanya is played with soft strengths and gentle beauty by David Bonanno. From the outset he is likeable and by the end he is a radiant vision of pure love. The gay character in this play, Vanya is almost mesmerized by the situation he finds himself in during the two days of Masha's visit with Spike. Bonanno uses very subtle looks and gestures to register his characters discontent with the situation around him. It is the most charming performance of this complex role. You can't help falling just a little bit in love with Bonanno's Vanya. At least you want to touch him softly on the shoulder and whisper, "you're doing just great."
The true star-turn in this family mish-mash belongs to Amelia White as Sonia. This is a glorious example of what a fine actress can make of a seemingly simple role. An angry middle-aged woman with a list of neuroses and complexes comes into her own in White's accomplished hands. You start out disliking the woman and you end up, just like the man she meets at a party, much more interested in getting to know her than you ever anticipated. I don't use the term "tour-de-force" often, but it truly applies in this case. Amelia White is wonderful.
All of this praise crumpled up into a ball should be thrown at director Steve Stettler who has made everything coalesce so perfectly. He and his acting team have understood the dynamics here and the timing that makes it all work. With the aid of a fine team of designers, Howard C. Jones (sets), Ann G. Wrightson (lights), Kirche Leigh Zeile (costumes), and Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (sound and music), Stettler has brought to life on the Weston Playhouse stage a most accomplished and wonderful artistic collaboration and you see, hear and almost smell the sweetness of this collaboration. If I had the time I would make the drive to Weston a second time and see this grand group of players Stettler assembled and coached and led in this wonderful, wonderful play.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike plays at the Weston Playhouse, located at 12 Park Street (on the Village Green) in Weston, Vermont through July 26. For information and tickets call the box office at 802-824-5288 or go on line at www.westonplayhouse.org.