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'Vanya, Sonia, and Masha and Spike': Comedy mixed with the realities of life

(L-R) Sharon Lockwood as Sonia, Rachael Holmes as Cassandra and Jeffrey Bean as Vanya in "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike".
(L-R) Sharon Lockwood as Sonia, Rachael Holmes as Cassandra and Jeffrey Bean as Vanya in "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike".
Photos by John Everett and Jann Whaley

Vanya, Sonia, and Masha and Spike

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A multi-award winning play including the 2013 Tony Award® for Best Play, “Vanya, Sonia, and Masha and Spike” is currently delighting audiences on the Alley Theatre stage. A family comedy filled with hilarity, chaos and an assortment of family drama.

Playwright Christopher Durang has created a humorous look at the choices we make in life and where that takes us. Originally, starring actors such as Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce, this production jump-started Durang’s career again. Bringing the production to the Alley stage, Artistic Director Geegory Boyd and Managing Director Dean Gladden assemble just as impressive a cast to entertain Houston audiences.

The play begins as Vanya (Jeffrey Bean) and his adopted sister, Sonia (Sharon Lockwood) share a repetitive, normal morning viewing their family pond. The pair lives together in their deceased parents’ home, both of whom were professors and theater lovers. Audiences are first introduced here to Cassandra (Rachael Holmes) a dynamic, scene-stealing cleaning lady, who lives up to her Greek name sake, who could see the future. She warns of impending danger for the pair and their family home.

Masha (Josie De Guzman), a widely successful, actress arrives home with her much younger, handsome boyfriend and fellow actor, Spike (Jay Sullivan). Masha reveals that she has been invited to a neighbor’s costume party and makes the event a family affair.

Right before the plays intermission, we are introduced to Nina (Sarah Nealis) a young, beautiful niece of a neighbor who idolizes Masha. She has dreams of being an actress on stage. She warms to Vanya, affectionately referring to him as uncle, and he reveals that he has been writing a play. At her insistence, he agrees to let her read it aloud to the group the next day.

Bean and De Guzman have appeared in “Communicating Doors” most recently on the Alley Stage and Sullivan starred in “Freud’s Last Session” at the Alley as C.S. Lewis. Sullivan offers another outstanding performance, although vastly different from his C.S. Lewis portrayal. He is dynamic, immature and free spirited to say the least in this role, as opposed to the studious, reserved Lewis. He also gets to show off his physique, which is also well received by the audience.

If Spike portrays all that is superficial and wrong with the current generation, Nina is a character that is refreshing and hopeful. Nealis embodies the light hearted, intelligent and caring Nina. She is passionate and infectious which spills over into the other characters. Nealis has the same infectious spirit, which seeps out into the audience.

The constant moments of humor delivered by each cast member makes it difficult for one to stand out above the rest. Holmes is very impressive in her supporting role and truly commands the stage whenever she is performing. Holmes and Sullivan, although in supporting roles, offer many of the humorous moments throughout the play.

As Act II opens, the party has ended and the group returns home. Despite the unhappiness of Masha after the unsuccessful party, Nina still insists on getting the group together for the reading of the play. The true heart of this production resides in these moments of the play and reminds us just why theater is so important yet under appreciated.

Watching a play inside a play, very "Hamlet" and Shakespeare like, the audience begins to become privy to the reality these characters and we all face, that everything changes. Our life and our world is constantly changing and either we become a part of it, get caught up in it or try to live in the past.

This play hinges on transformation and the siblings have all changed from the onset. Sonia possibly changed most of all, going from down and out and "bi-polar", to being the most hopeful and optimistic. Vanya has gone from a man just getting through life, to being rejuvenated and with a desire to create art and truly live. Bean and Lockwood complement each other’s performance, as their characters do in the play, both go from being bitter and resentful to being hopeful and longing for their futures.

Each actor Bean, De Guzman and Lockwood gives themselves to these characters, these three differing siblings, and the audience laughs, cries, rejoices and hopes with them because we believe in the performances. Each actor in this production stands out and creates a one of a kind character that you can identify with or at the very least you can say, "I know someone just like that."

This play offers a hopeful, reminiscent feel for those who remember or forget that there were days before cell phones, Internet and cable and remind us to appreciate what has come before and realize it may not have been as bad as we might think. A quiet evening at the theater void of Twitter, Facebook or texting might be something lost on the current, my, generation but might be something we should learn to appreciate again. Magic happens on stage and productions like this take us back to simpler times to appreciate simpler things and realize the life we lead isn't so bad as long as we have hope.

"Vanya, Sonia, and Masha and Spike" is playing now at the Alley Theatre on the Hubbard Stage. It runs through June 15,on the following days: Tuesday-Thursday, Sunday evenings 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday evenings 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees 2:30 p.m.. For ticket information, visit their sit at www.alleytheatre.org, call them at 713-220-5700 or visit the box office for tickets located at 615 Texas Avenue, Houston Texas 77002. Be sure to check out their exciting newly released line up for the 2014-2015 season which will be seen at UH while the Alley undergoes renovations. Find out how you can get your season tickets now and never miss one exciting, hilarious, or thought provoking moment.