No wonder Christopher Durang won the 2013 Tony award for best play. Side-splittingly funny “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is not to be missed! Under the direction of David Hyde Pierce (based on the Broadway direction of Nicholas Martin) the play opened to a standing ovation on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at the Mark Taper Forum.
Anyone who enjoys comedy at its best will enjoy this first-class and literate play. Audience members familiar with the work of Anton Chekov will also delight in the allusions and references to his memorable plays, themes and characters with a modern day sensibility.
“Set in 21st century Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with hints of 19th century Russia” the show opens with siblings Vanya (Mark Blum) and Sonia (Kristine Nielsen) ruminating over the emptiness of their lives and bemoaning their professorial parents naming them after Chekovian characters. For the past 15 years they have been stuck in the same place caring for their parents from old age to senility to their passing while their sister, Masha (Christine Ebersole) has lived an exciting life as a famous film star. They did the work and she paid the bills, but now that their parents are gone, they are at a loss.
On her visit home Masha brings her latest boy-toy, aspiring actor Spike (David Hull). Add to the mix the mythically named Cassandra, the housekeeper who sees visions of the future and makes dire predictions much to the family’s confusion. Further stirring the pot, young, vivacious and overly eager neighbor, Nina (Liesel Allen Yeager) shows up hoping to meet her idol, Masha.
Long-suppressed feelings and resentments boil over in some of the most hilarious and inspired dialogue and monologues likely to be heard on any other L.A. stage at this moment. Triggered by Spike’s clueless rude behavior, Blum’s second act “tour de force” diatribe comparing 21st century technologically-induced isolation with the shared American experiences of the 1950s received a thunderous ovation at its conclusion.
Raucous laughter on opening night was so vigorous throughout the show some of Durang’s lines were lost. Note to cast, please wait a beat or two for the laughter to subside so the audience does not miss a single word. Let them laugh as long as they want. With the caliber of the cast this is sure to be rectified.
David Kornis’ sublime set design gives the actors a wonderful environment in which to play. Gabriel Berry’s fabulous costumes, especially those worn by the cast for a neighbor’s costume party, are crucial and hilarious elements, as is the wig, hair and make-up design of Cookie Jordan.
Durang is one of modern theater’s premiere playwrights with a loyal following who will love this show, and this brilliant production ought to introduce more theater-goers to his eccentric and unique voice. Even his program notes are LOL funny!
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” performs Tuesday through Sunday through March 9. Tickets range from $20 - $70 (ticket prices are subject to change). Call 213-972-4444 or visit www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.
The Mark Taper Forum is located at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A.