By Bob Evans
Whoever thought Anton Chekhov could be funny? His plays certainly were not, and the best part, they were short and quick reads. But, playwright Christopher Durang certainly found humor in Chekhov’s characters when crafting his brilliant comedy, “Vanya, Sonia, Masha, and Spike,” now performing at Olathe Civic Theatre Association through May 7.
Director Nino Casisi said that as soon as the show was available for community theaters, he bought the rights. So, OCTA’s version is the first non-professional in the KC Metro. Previously, the Kansas City Repertory Theatre produced the show several seasons ago.
Casisi’s view of the show pokes fun at the stereotyped characters and stilted dialogue that brings the laughs within the first minute of “Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike.” With an eye toward superb casting, Casisi assembled a cast that unites established with novice actors.
No one can deny Bill Pelletier’s expertise in comedy (both acting and directing). Ellen DeShon can rips hearts apart with dramatic skills (“Frozen”) and comedic timing (“One Man Two Guvnors”). Meghan Deveroux returns to OCTA after a nice, dramatic turn in “Piece of My Heart.” And, Jeannie Blau adds to her OCTA resume with a stunning performance as Masha. That leaves only two OCTA novices, David Webster and Lauren McDonnell in their OCTA debut.
Pelletier’s Vanya is fun from his first entrance with a cup of coffee (that he poured himself). Sonia, bemoans the fact that she always pours Vanya’ coffee and cannot handle the fact that Vanya prefers the self-poured cup over the one she brings him. Such is the case of the entrance of two principals an their bleak life of watching the nearby pond for the appearance of a Blue Heron. Such bland, colorless life sets the tone for the play to follow. Pelletier embodies the frustration of never haveing life outside the home and finds himself drawn to the masculine muscles of his house guest, Spike. And his character explodes with a touching monologue about the way things were. Sonia, leads a life of melancholy and inability to see beyond her four walls. She’s led a bleak life until a costume party allows her to find life and a love interest from without her walls. The character is funny in DeShon’s hands.
Enter the most outlandish housekeeper in theater history, Cassandra, who claims precognition of events, words, and tragedy. The problem: She’s not always accurate with her premonitions and forecasts….but close enough to create tension and comedy foreshadowing. Deveroux lets fly with the most out of bounds character in the play.
And then, the most normal of the three siblings, Masha, arrives with expectations of selling the house and turning out Vanya and Sonia. She’s not the famous actress she once was, and after five failed marriages, she’s changed her romantic focus for a new boytoy, Spike. As Masha, Jeannie Blau stuns audiences with her stage presence and characterization of Masha. Blau said that this was the role she wanted to play and that Masha is a character that many actresses dream to portray. She does not disappoint. Blau matches the others with beautiful characterization and consistency throughout the play.
The final characters Spike and Nina fit well into the ensemble piece. Spike exudes an innocent yet oversexed boytoy clinging to Masha until he sees Nina and his gaze and focus shift. Webster’ character is sexy, fun and sexual as he torments the gay-leaning Vanya with his dressing and undressing in front of Vanya. Webster gives Spike a strong on-stage presence and gives the audience (and Vanya) eye candy. Nina encourages Vanya to read his play with the balance of the cast while clad in Greek tragedy costume. MacDonnell is charmingly naive in her portrayal of a molecule. Yes, a molecule. What a stretch for an actress. Great job for MacDonnell to fit into the ensemble cast and not get swallowed.
Overall, the production is a splendid afternoon of comedy. Yes, it has a serious part as all the characters undergo changes, but the comedy reigns. The laughs are abundant and well delivered. The costumes were as strong as the characters in the play. The sound, lights, and props were also good and helped with the overall effect of the play. The obvious result is that the ensemble cast knows, likes, and enjoys each other. The resulting play outshines the individual performances. Credit Casisi and OCTA for this selection and production.
The cast is: The cast features: Bill Pelletier (Vanya), Ellen DeShon (Sonia), Jeannie Blau (Masha), David Webster (Spike), Meghann Deveroux (Cassandra), and Lauren McDonnell (Nina). Production team: Nino Casisi (Director), Patrick Mitchell (Assistant Director and Assistant to the Costumer), Jo Bledsoe-Collins (Stage Manager), Ted Collins (Assistant Stage Manager), Kevin Albee and Nino Casisi (Technical Directors), RubyRenee Wood (Costumes), April Hall (Property Design), Chuck Cline (Lighting Design), and Dustin Kleba (Sound Design).
“Vanya Sonia, Masha, and Spike” continues weekends at Olathe Civic Theatre Association. For tickets, times, dates, and more, contact the OCTA website .
Tags: Olathe Civic Theatre Association, OCTA, “Vanya Sonia Masha and Spike”, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, Kansas City Theater, Olathe