Chekhov characters enliven ‘Vanya, Sonia, Masha, & Spike’

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By Bob Evans

Memorial Day signals the opening of the summer season and ushers in a plethora of openings of new productions at local theaters, as is the case with City Theatre of Independence’s comic play, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” by Christopher Durang.

[/media-credit] Portrait of a girl, in snow white costume, crying

With direction by Gregory Chafin, a cast of six pack in the laughs at the expense of classic characters from Anton Chekhov plays. Parents of Vanya, Sonia, and Masha decided to name their children after Chekhov characters, setting up the play were the characters resemble their namesakes as family structures, balances, old resentments, and memories get in the way of current day situations.

As stated in the press material from City Theatre of Independence, “Middle-aged siblings Vanya and Sonia share a home in Bucks County, PA, where they bicker and complain about the circumstances of their lives. Suddenly, their movie-star sister, Masha, swoops in with her new boy toy, Spike. Old resentments flare up, eventually leading to threats to sell the house. Also on the scene are sassy maid Cassandra, who can predict the future, and a lovely young aspiring actress named Nina, whose prettiness somewhat worries the imperious Masha.”

The three siblings are joined for the weekend with Cassandra, named after a character of Greek Mythology who has pre-cognizance of things to be….kind of a modern day soothsayer…whose premonitions do not always occur as she foresees them. Spike, a dim-witted wannabe actor with a killer body, more appropriate for a Chippendale’s show than as Masha’s current lover, accompanies Masha to visit her siblings and childhood home. The final character is Nina, a very young, beauty, ingenue, wannabe actress, obviously with no formal training and only moderate brain cells.

Add to the mix, the prospect of a costume party that bring the siblings to face old arguments, pecking order, and dreams of one-upmanship and you get the comic elements of Durang’s play. A Tony winner of Best Play in 2013, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike was nominated for six Tony Awards.

The cast for the City Theatre’s production is: Vanya, Nathan Gwartney; Sonia, Jennifer Femiano: Masha, Becca Shaw Stabno; Spike, Matthew McDowell; Cassandra, Wendy Buchheit; Nina, Kim Hentges.

Be ready for a trip down memory lane when Vanya goes ballistic over an old-time postage stamp…the kind you licked. Watch Cassandra create and demonstrate the effects of Voo Doo. Be ready for Sonia’s transition from a Cinderellaesque, nondescript character into the sexy Evil Queen from a Disney film. Watch Spike strip and un-strip. Focus on Nina’s acting debut as a molecule.

Gregory Chafin directed the ensemble and masterfully hit each comic line in the play with the help of the strong cast. Each of the cast develops his or her character with confidence and allow the audience to follow along as the characters change throughout the play, revealing their strengths, weaknesses, and hopes for the future. The play is touching and funny.

“As a director, I have had one goal and that is to effectively tell this story so that it can be enjoyed by anyone who sits in the seats. It was my intention through casting and rehearsals to work with the actors in such a way that would allow them to stretch their creative minds and bring you a full bodied experience,” Chafin said. “Every outstanding play or story has five rules: Simplicity, clarity, precision, accuracy, and humanity. In ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike each of these five things can be found in each character.”

Performance Dates: June 1, 2, 3, 9, 10, 11, 2017 at Roger Sermon Center in Independence, Missouri.

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