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Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Despite various honors and successes, industry recognition via a Tony Award was a long time coming for playwright Christopher Durang, but Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike proves itself to be worthy, as we see in the stellar production now running in the Ricketson Theatre at the Denver Center Theatre Company.

(Left to right) Amelia White as Sonia, Sam Gregory as Vanya, and Kathleen McCall as Masha
(L to R) Amelia White as Sonia,
Sam Gregory as Vanya,
and Kathleen McCall as Masha
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
Durang combines key features from Chekov's Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard, including certain plot lines—the relationship of Vanya and Sonia; the potential sale of the family estate; and various pieces of dialogue—with contemporary sensibilities, as well as new plot twists, a broader comedic sense than the 116-year old original, new characters, and a creative plot resolution that would make Chekhov smile (at the recognition that at least a few folks understood that all his plays, save one, were comedies, according to the man himself).

Fifty-somethings Vanya (Sam Gregory) and his step-sister Sonia (Amelia White) argue and bemoan their fate, having to take care of their parents lovely country home (wonderful set by Lisa Orzolek). Durang's wild card, Cassandra (Socorro Santiago), the cleaning lady, enters and launchs into the first of a series of premonitions, much as her Greek namesake was wont to do, all of which are prescient. In this case, she warns Vanya and Sonia about the house being sold. Santiago is a crackup at this, much like Madame Arcati in Blythe Spirit, or the sombrero-wearing campesino Coyote Angel in The Milagro Beanfield War.

Kathleen McCall as Masha and Eddie Lopez as Spike
Kathleen McCall as Masha
and Eddie Lopez as Spike
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
An hour later, Vanya and Sonia's sister Masha (Kathleen McCall), an actress and five-time divorcée, shows up with her current boy-toy, Spike (Eddie Lopez). Masha's claim to fame is a series of movies in which she played a nymphomaniacal serial killer. When things were going well, she was willing to pay the expenses on the family estate, but now, with her career waning, she is ready to sell. All of this frightens Vanya and Sonia, who will be left out in the cold. Meanwhile, Spike meets the young and stunning Nina (Leslie Shires) at the nearby pond, raising the ire and jealousy of Masha.

While Chekov considered parts of his work melodramatic, Durang steps it up a few orders of magnitude, all to great comedic effect. In addition to Santiago's hilarious sendup, McCall turns it on as the penultimate self-possessed over-the-hill starlet, making us anticipate what Nina later vocalizes, mistaking Masha's costume party character for Norma Desmond.

(Left to right) Lesley Shires as Nina, Kathleen McCall as Masha, and Socorro Santiago as Cassandra
(L to R) Lesley Shires as Nina,
Kathleen McCall as Masha,
and Socorro Santiago as Cassandra
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
Durang's droll (and gay) Vanya is played to perfection by Gregory who, with White's Sonia, orchestrate a series of wonderful comedic routines, trading one-liners with zest. White's Maggie Smith impression produces a sweet catharsis for Sonia. Lopez puts the Chippendales to shame, prancing about in his underwear, working his cellphone, while displaying the vacuousness of a text-consumed existence. Shires is a knockout as the innocent and guiless Nina, an angelic counterbalance to Cassandra, who draws Vanya out of his shell and into a staged reading of a play he has written.

Durang blesses us with a contemporary twist on Chekhov's cautionary importuning, to follow one's bliss, via three, count 'em, dei ex machina—Cassandra, Spike, and Nina—and finds a lovely resolution.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's presentation of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, directed by Jenn Thompson, runs through November 16th. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows

 

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