Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 18, 2014

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Shakespeare & Co., Lenox, MA
through September 14, 2014
by Jarice Hanson

Though the title may reference Chekhov, there is only a wink and a nod to his work in Christopher Durang’s comic treatment of the master’s works. Add the skill of a talented director (Matthew Penn) and a stellar cast, and this production will have future audiences giggling and guffawing at squabbling siblings, pop culture, repressed desire, and libidinous lust. This show leaves no doubt as to why Durang won the 2013 Tony for Best Play with this gem.

In the Shakespeare & Co. production, director Penn has used his knowledge of how to interpret the work in an intimate setting, emphasizing the tensions between characters while allowing the audience to participate as voyeurs. An actor’s director, he trusts his actors’ instincts while giving them original bits to allow each one to shine in their own special way. The director’s note in the program states, “This play’s popularity is a credit to Durang’s wonderful ability to make theatrical moments simultaneously funny and touching…” Definite agreement here. Yes, the material is wonderful, and yes, the director has an expert touch, but in this case, each member of the ensemble deserves to take a bow for creating such memorable performances.

Vanya (Jim Frangione) is a cerebral, repressed 50-something man who lives with his despairing adopted sister, Sonia (Tod Randolph) in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Masha (Elizabeth Aspenlieder), their movie star sister “adored by many and loved by few,” comes for a visit with her sexy boy-toy (Mat Leonard). Newcomers Angel Moore as Cassandra the fortune-telling, voodoo practicing cleaning lady, and Olivia Saccomanno  as Nina, the innocent young neighbor, add wonderful layers of comedy and sweetness to advance the story. This talented ensemble take their audience on a hilarious, but heart-felt journey as each character comes to terms with who they are, and what they mean to each other.

This play is currently being produced in theatres around the country, and undoubtedly will be produced for years. Kudos to Shakespeare and Company for presenting such a memorable production, and for capping off their summer season with heart and warmth.