Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Paper Mill Playhouse - Millburn, NJ - January 2015

Review by John Kenrick


The photo below is used with the permission of Paper Mill Playhouse.

Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike at Paper MillMichelle Pawk (Sonia), Mark Nelson (Vanya) and Carolyn McCormick (Masha) in Paper Mill's production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.

Don't let the wordy title fool you. Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a laugh-packed comic treat, particularly in the handsome production at Paper Mill Playhouse. Yes, there are numerous references to the palys of Anton Chekov, but the playwright handles them so deftly that the play offers a harvest of fun -- even if you have never experienced Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters or even The Cherry Orchard. Of course, if it happens that you have seen them, all the better.

The story involves three siblings -- all dubbed with Chekovian names by academic parents -- battling over the potential sale of the Bucks County farmhouse they have lived in since childhood. For many years, Masha (Carolyn McCormick) has been acting in a series of tacky but popular movies, covering the costs while her brother Vanya (Mark Nelson) and adopted sister Sonia (Michelle Pawk) cared for their ailing parents. Now that mother and father have passed, Masha arrives with her studly boytoy Spike (Phillipe Bowgen) in tow, to announce that she is planning to cut costs by selling off the house which would leave Vanya and Sonia to fend for themselves. The comic possibilities of this family squabble is further fueled by the presence of a voodoo-spouting housekeeper (Gina Daniels) and an aspiring young actress (Jamie Ann Romero) who worships Masha but cannot help making her feel older by comparison.

Along with a series of solid ensemble scenes, Durang gives every character showcase moments. In particular, Broadway veteran Michelle Pawk turns a phone call into a sweet tour de force, and Mark Nelson turns a middle aged rant into a delightful valentine to the now-lost culture of the mid-20th Century. The cast interplay is excellent, making the most of Durang's witty dialogue.

Everything is smartly staged by Don Stephenson, who wisely lets this fine play speak for itself. This production has the same handsome set that David Korins designed for Broadway, with excellent costumes by Leon Dobkowski and first rate lighting design by Stephen Terry.

The critically acclaimed original Broadway production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike had a limited run, but managed to win a well-deserved Tony for Best Play. If you did not catch it and would like to see what all the fuss was about, pop over to Paper Mill and treat yourself to a much needed dose of mid-winter laughter.

This production runs through Feb. 15, 2015.

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