It is definitely worth the trip to New Milford to see this fun production
I wanted so much to see the TheatreWorks New Milford production of VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE ever since I learned that it would be a theatrical reunion of many of the cast members from their fun production of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN last May. The only problem I had was remembering the correct order of the names in the quirky title.
I didn't know anything about this comedy by Christopher Durang, although I did recall seeing a Snow White costume in press photos when the show ran on Broadway (in association with McCarter Theatre Center.) I was not sure how Disney costumes would work with a piece that had ties to Checkov, but I looked forward to seeing how it would all come together, and come together it did in the mind of the talented playwright Mr. Durang.
The comedy is set in the present in a farmhouse in Bucks County Pennsylvania. Some of the play's elements were derived from Anton Checkov, such as the names of the characters, and the mention of a cherry orchard. It explores the relationships of three middle-aged siblings. Vanya and Sonia (perhaps the most Chekhovian of the title characters) live together and are supported by their sister, an actress named Masha; the two siblings cared for their university professor/community theatre actor parents until their deaths. The action takes place during a visit of the dramatic Masha and her much younger lover Spike; the siblings discuss their lives, argue and Masha threatens to sell the family home.
Mr. Durang has said that the comedy is not a Chekhov parody but that he took the author's scenes and characters and "put them into a blender." There is mention of THREE SISTERS, and Mr. Durang says that "Cassandra, who's a cleaning woman and soothsayer, is like the Greek-tragedy Cassandra. In some ways, she's like the nanny in Vanya, but she doesn't reflect Chekhov as much."
The fabulous TheatreWorks play is under the able direction of Jocelyn Beard, who generously gave up her seat in the back of the house to this reviewer. The director once met Mr. Durang and reports that he is now the head of the Graduate Dramatic Writing Program at Julliard. Ms. Beard, who also directed YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, has assembled the perfect cast to play the well-drawn characters. The other FRANKENSTEIN alums include David Fritsch (Viktor Frankenstein) as Vanya, Lana Peck (Frau Blucher) as Sonia and Maya Jennings Daley (Inga) in the role of Nina.
Mr. Fritsch, a sixth grade math and science teacher who has directed over 40 plays and musicals, took on the role of the gay "Uncle" Vanya. He was relatively quiet in the first act, but said a lot with just a look. In the second act, he had a chance to take us a trip to the past with a monologue.
Ali Bernhardt, a Marymount Manhattan College grad, gave a strong performance as the aging actress Masha. I look forward to seeing her in more local productions. Nick Raines of Washington CT played the young lover of Masha; he got to practice some of his Tai Chi moves in the (often lightly clad) role.
Ms. Daley returned to this stage and did very as the young budding actress Nina. Sumiah Gay, now a senior at WCSU, had so many quirky lines to master in the role of Vanya and Sonia's psychic cleaning person in her TheatreWorks debut; this young actress has a fine stage presence that will serve her well in her future roles.
It was a pleasure to see Ms. Peck on the TheatreWorks stage again, after she nearly stole the show in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. In her program bio, she calls her return "Frau Blucher Strikes Back" and in this performance she shows off many more of her talents. The ease with which this actress switches to different voices came in handy for this role. Ms. Peck is also a talented theatrical scenic artist and prop maker with the Warner and Landmark; recently I had the pleasure of speaking with her about her set painting work at Musicals at Richter. Kudos to this talented performer, who frequently appears on the Nutmeg Junction radio show (but not the one I recorded unfortunately,) on another memorable performance.
The set designed by Shegbargh Scenic was appropriate to an area that I have driven through on a few occasions.Peter Petrino (YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN) designed the vivid lighting and Sue Haneman was in charge of the mixed bag of costumes required in the script. I especially liked the lush ensemble that Sonia wore to the costume party. Video projections by Philip Lamb in the large window suggested the passage of time. The director operated the numerous sound cues from a perch up a round staircase.
I appreciated the topical references; I lived within walking distance of a Wawa market as a child. It was fitting that two of the characters discuss a job at CVS, when TheatreWorks New Milford is directly across the road from the local CVS pharmacy.
And yes, I can proudly report that I can now recite the tile by memory, albeit slowly. VSMS is presented with one intermission and runs approximately two hours. It is definitely worth the trip to New Milford to see this fun production that runs through August 3, 2019.