Jesylyn Batman, Charles Lauffer, & Carmen Miller. Photo: IUS Theatre Dept.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Written by Christopher Durang
Directed by Ashley Wallace
A review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
Chances are you are familiar with at least one of Anton Chekov’s literary masterpieces, such as The Three Sisters? Not ringing a bell? How about The Cherry Orchard? Still nothing? Ah, I know you know this one: Uncle Vanya. Yup, I knew that I would find one that you recognized.
The latest offering from the Theatre Department at Indiana University Southeast is Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a witty play that highlights the relationship between siblings and their respective lives. While the play features some truly funny moments there are times that you are left astonished at the spark of reality. The essence of the play is truly an homage to Chekov and a feast for any lover of literature.
Siblings Vanya (Charles Lauffer) and adopted sister Sonia (Jeslyn Batman), share the Pennsylvanian farmhouse that they grew up in with their theater professor parents. When sister Masha (Carmen Miller) a successful actress who supports her siblings, comes for a visit, bringing her latest boyfriend Spike (Hamilton Craig), the quiet and dullness of Vasha and Sonia’s life is disrupted, the siblings argue over their past and present states of life and love. When Masha threatens to sell the house, the relationships change a bit.
After Masha insists everyone dress with a Disney Snow White theme for a costume party, a further shift happens for each sibling, even Spike.
The play was a big success when it first premiered on Broadway. The comedy can be in your face and also subtle. But, as I mentioned before, there are moments where reality gob smacks you unexpectedly as we are forced to identify with these people.
Aside from the title characters, there is visiting neighbor Nina (Avery Wilson), a young wanna-be actress with an old soul who befriends Spike, much to Masha’s chagrin. While she appreciates Spike, she finds a kindred soul in Vanya and begins to call him Uncle Vanya, instilling a spark in Vanya’s creativity and becoming his muse. While I understand the reason for the character it feels underdeveloped, although Ms. Wilson portrayed her effectively.
Perhaps the most outlandish character is the siblings’ housekeeper, Cassandra (Esther Yebei). As her name implies, Cassandra is “gifted” with second sight, most of the time. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. She is a fireball of phrases and practices shamanism and voodoo. Ms. Yebei certainly seemed to be having a lot of fun with this role.
Mr. Craig’s Spike was just as I thought a young star would be: handsome, a bit dim, and full of himself and his talent, or in Spike’s case, a lack thereof. While it was quite obvious that Spike exuded the follies of youth, he had a charisma that made one think that perhaps he wasn’t all bad.
Ms. Batman’s Sonia was a bit perplexing at first. She comes out all sparkles and love but suddenly flashes red, hot anger. The reason is in the text. However, when her life starts to pivot a bit, I would have liked to have seen a bit more reaction to the change.
As Vanya is the oldest of the siblings, he seems to be the most laid back. He is observant and calm in a crisis. Or is he? Mr. Lauffer looked the part and seemed to take the role to heart, especially in a lengthy and poignant diatribe that he shares with the house in the second act.
Carmen Miller seemed to be channeling almost every soap opera star, old Hollywood starlet and new for her role as Masha. Aside from being spot on in her speech and appearance (especially in her opening in the second act), she was reactionary and sympathetic at the appropriate time.
Rebekkah Meixner-Hanks’ lighting had good contrast and helped to accentuate the farmhouse and surroundings, that she also helped design. I do have a couple of notes about the costuming, though. Without giving too much away, where does a shepherd’s crook come into play when portraying Snow White and Sonia’s costume looked more like Ursula from Disney’s Little Mermaid than it did anyone from Snow White. Otherwise, the costuming was truly good.
While the timing could have been tightened up a tad for fadeouts and scene changes, Ashley Wallace’s direction was assured. However, the ending needs a bit of work. I also enjoyed the acoustic soundtrack that featured The Beatles.
All in all, it was a fun and lively performance and I enjoyed picking out the various pieces of Chekov dropped throughout.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
February 21, 22, 28, & 29 @ 8:00 PM
February 23 & March 1 @ 2:30 PM
IUS Theatre Department
The Ogle Center
4201 Grant Line Road
New Albany, Indiana 47150
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.
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