Reviewed by Tony Annicone
The third show of The Players’ 109th season is the comedy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang. Vanya and his adopted sister Sonia live a quiet life in the Pennsylvania farmhouse where they grew up. However their peace is disturbed when their movie star sister Masha returns unannounced with her twenty something boy toy, Spike. They discuss their lives and loves and argue then Masha who supports her siblings, threatens to sell the house. The only other resident of their home, is the cleaning lady, Cassandra who like her namesake is always making dire predictions that nobody believes. Some of the elements of the show are derived from Anton Chekov, including some of the characters names, the play’s setting in the cherry orchard and the possible loss of their ancestral home. The play is about accepting life the way it is. It’s also about change and accepting it as well as that there is no place like home no matter what happens along the way. Director Steven Vessella infuses his cast with high energy in these comic roles and obtains hilarious performances from all of them. However there is a dramatic punch from the two sisters in the second act and a brilliant powerful monologue from Vanya on the way things used to be when people took time to enjoy themselves and each other without rushing around on Twitter, cell phones and facebook.
The terrific living room set is by Patricia Cotoia and the colorful comic costumes are by Abigail Dufresne, Becky Kilcline and Michael Maio. Steven gives each of the six performers their moment to shine in this show. The constantly arguing Vanya and Sonia are marvelously played by Roger Lemelin and Sharon Charpentier. His character is 59 years old and is gay. Roger delivers the goods with his one liners but absolutely stops the show with his enormous 5 page monologue in Act 2 which wins him thunderous applause at his expert delivery of it. Sharon is very funny especially when she breaks the coffee cups in a fit of anger as well as when she imitates Maggie Smith in “California Suite” while saying she’s the wicked Queen from Snow White. Her gold lame dress fits this character perfectly. Her dramatic breakdown scene with Masha is another show stopping moment. Sonia explains that she took care of their parents for 15 years while Masha was away acting. Elizabeth Messier commands the stage as the over the top, Masha. She always wanted to act in Chekhov plays but ended up doing a couple of slasher movies for the money. Masha needs constant praise and adulation. She exclaims that she will be Snow White at the party and everyone else must be the dwarves. Masha threatens her siblings with eviction but after Vanya’s monologue, an argument with Spike and commiseration with Cassandra, she comes to her senses at last. Elizabeth runs the gamut of emotions in this role, delivering a memorable performance.
The sexy, always preening himself and half dressed Spike is wonderfully played by Nick Autiello. He is a hoot as the dumber than dirt lothario. Nick as Spike is always exercising and trying to entice Vanya and Sonia with his antics. Spike goes to the party dressed as Prince Charming but quickly goes downhill in the second act with his cell phone antics during Vanya’s play reading. The biggest scene stealer is Becky Minard as Cassandra. She is always making sinister predictions like “Beware the Ides of March” and punishes Masha with Voodoo pins in a doll. Her antics as this madcap character are priceless. Her costumes are colorful and hilarious. Rounding out the cast is Kristen Wedel McGuirk as Nina, the niece of the neighbors. She wants to go to the costume party, read Vanya’s play ala Konstantine from “The Seagull” and perform it for the other guests. So for a thought provoking, yet hilarious comic romp of a play, be sure to catch “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” before time runs out. To become a member of this theatre club just call Bill Applegate at 273-0590.
VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE (19 to 28 January)
The Players, Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit Street, Providence, RI
1(401)273-0590 or www.playersri.org