VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE Bring Chekov and Ibsen Together at TheatreWorks New Milford
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, by Christopher Durang, is one of those shows that has the potential to make you laugh, cry, cheer, jeer, sympathize, hopeful, and feel uncomfortable all within the span of a single conversation. It takes a tight cast and crew to capitalize on that potential, and TheatreWorks New Milford made the grade. From a rustic set reminding the audience of the past while integrating technology of the present, to the modernly realistic performances of the classical stereotypes of Chekov and Ibsen, TheatreWorks found the balance between the old and the new and brought Durang's words to life.
Adorning the stage, from proscenium to proscenium, was the living room of a rustic, rural home; complete with stone columns, bay windows, and a home phone with an answering machine. The cozy interior was complimented with Durang's description of the pond outside and aided by the stunning projection of a big red barn with a windmill filling the window space. The extremely high quality projection was backlit- meaning the projector was behind the screen so that actors couldn't cast shadows on it- and so clean that it looked just as real as the interior of the room. The spinning windmill animation and the ability to change the background from morning to dusk to night gleaming with stars filled in the time and setting with beauty and poise.
Contrasting with the relatively modern rustic home (after all, this Gen Z does know what a landline is) was the Chekhovian character archetypes complete with Chekhovian names, plus one Greek. Vanya, composedly played by David Fritsch, was the anchor to realism. His calm demeanor, desire to talk things out logically, and protective attitude was the standard for the rest of the characters to contrast with. The only downside being that Fritsch had a tendency to talk to the floor rather than the other characters. Sonia, for example, manically played by Lana Peck, was the awkward, shy, and depressed character who was constantly overlooked in action. The way Peck carried herself, delivered her subtle cries for help, and managed to misread or instigate any interaction was reminiscent of many childhood and young adult friends, even though the character is in her golden years. Her counterpart, Sonia and Vanya's sister Masha, irritatingly played by Ali Bernhardt, was everything Sonia wasn't: Successful, famous, popular, and confident. Her characterization of the "stuck up younger sister who had everything," was frustrating and irritating but still contained just enough insecurity to warrant sympathy from the audience. Lastly, in terms of Chekhovian archetypes, we have Nina, adoringly played by Maya Jennings Daley. Nina is the youthful ingenue filled with endless joy and hopefulness. While normally the role is intended for star crossed lovers, Durang twists the naivete of Nina into a source of conflict that doesn't need to happen. While Nina is an object of fear and stress in Masha's relationship, Nina makes it wholly clear that she isn't interested in romance, preferring instead to build a friendship with Vanya.
But Durang, and the cast, aren't done with contrast just yet. Just as Vanya, Sonia, and Masha all contrast with each other, Vanya is another source of contrast with Spike. Spike, shamelessly played by Nick Raines, was another modern-day realistic character like Vanya, but their personalities couldn't be more different. His fearless, impulsive, carefree attitude and willingness to strip on stage was so oppositional to Vanya's calm, cool, collected mentality, that when Vanya reaches his breaking point, Spike is the straw that broke the camel's back, rather than his increasing fury with his sisters. Finally, Cassandra lived up to her mythological roots: Cassandra, cursed by Zeus to be able to predict the future with the added drawback that no one would believe her, was a spitting image of her history: just in a young adult in the modern era rather than an woman in ancient Greece. Cassandra, prophetically played by Sumiah Gay, felt the most distant and stood out the most- like a colorful character in a black & white movie- it is sort of fitting given the different origins of the character's role. As the show went on, Gay settled into the mood of the performance and, by the end, blended in with the others as they grew out of their stereotypes and into their futures.
Despite the small space, TheatreWorks New Milford knows how to pack a lot of quality into a little quantity. From the spectacular set design to the wide range of emotional twists and turns, the cast and crew of Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike tell an endearing tale about family and change. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs Fridays and Saturdays from July 12th through August 3rd at 8pm with a special 2pm matinee on Sunday, July 21st.