There is a long-standing tradition at Bucks County Playhouse. Beginning in their inaugural season, playwrights have had the opportunity to perform in their own plays. In that first season, Thornton Wilder starred as the Stage Manager in a production of his play, OUR TOWN. Fast forward to 2014, and the latest playwright onstage is Chrisopher Durang, starring as Vanya in VANYA & SONIA & MASHA & SPIKE.
VANYA tells the story of middle-aged siblings Vanya and Sonia (Durang and Deidre Madigan), living in the family home in Bucks County, PA. They live what on the surface would seem to be an idyllic life…no jobs, living on a lake, all bills paid for by their movie-star sister Masha (Marilu Henner). However, they spend most of their time bemoaning lost chances and their wasted lives, spent first caring for their now-dead parents, and now having no life. They are joined by the cleaning woman, Cassandra (Mahira Kakkar), who, like her namesake, makes increasingly dire prophesies that no one believes. Their somewhat-boring lives are uprooted when Masha comes for a visit, accompanied by her new boy-toy, Spike (Jimmy Mason), a much younger man who ALMOST got a part in Entourage 2. Spike is physically perfect, and has a propensity to remove his clothing. He goes out to swim in the lake, and meets Nina (Clea Alsip), an aspiring actress who idolizes Masha (who is torn between the idolization and the jealousy she feels about Nina and Spike).
Masha has returned home to attend a costume party at an influential neighbor’s home. She intends to dress as Snow White (the Disney version) and wants Sonia and Vanya to dress as dwarves. Sonia rebels, dressing as the Evil Queen (as portrayed by Maggie Smith). As they prepare to attend the party, Masha reveals that she is going to sell the house, leaving Vanya and Sonia homeless, devastated. And then…
This was an interesting production, with some wonderful performances. Henner was terrific as Masha…loud, commanding, at times insensitive and overbearing, but ultimately endearing. Mason gave a very believable performance as Spike, with the right mix of airheaded and self-absorbed. Alsip was correctly understated as Nina. Kakkar at times stole the show as Cassandra, over the top funny with her gyrations and “visions”. Madigan gave the performance of the evening as Sonia, her impression of Maggie Smith spot-on; appropriately whiny without being annoying.
I cannot imagine what it must have been like for Durang to be on stage with these powerful performers, but I suspect it was a bit intimidating. His Vanya was understated in comparison, and he struggled a bit with lines at times, including a very long and powerful monologue near the end of the play. I am sure with a few performances under his belt he will feel much more comfortable.
Production values were, as usual, very good in this show. The set was beautiful and functional yet gave a perfect interpretation of a country home in Bucks County. Lighting evoked a sunny, open environment. Costumes were wonderful: a perfect Snow White, Dwarves, Prince Charming, and a beautiful gown for Sonia, as well as the “regular” clothing for the actors.
This was a fun evening…a long play (almost 2½ hours including intermission,) but with enough laughs to break up the family distress. And, it is always a pleasure to see Henner on the Bucks County stage. All in all, an evening in Bucks County, enjoying a play about Bucks County residents…not a bad way to spend a summer eve.
VANYA & SONIA & MASHA & SPIKE
by Christopher Durang
Directed by Sheryl Kaller
July 10-August 10, 2014
Bucks County Playhouse
70 S Main St
New Hope PA 18938