• Theater Review: Comedy or farce? You choose
    By Jim Lowe
    Staff Writer | July 21,2014
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    Photo by Hubert Schriebl

    From left, Masha (Susan Haefner), Vanya (David Bonanno) and Sonia (Amelia White), have just arrived home from the costume party in Weston Playhouse’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”
    An aging brother and sister moan and groan about their mundane existence until their much more successful sibling visits, and they realize they’re not so badly off after all.

    Or, Anton Chekhov’s classic tragi-comedy characters from “Uncle Vanya,” as well as “Three Sisters” and “The Seagull,” return to life in the 21st century, only to find themselves in the same situation they always had been.

    Either way you see it, “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike” is hilarious — and the Weston Playhouse production, which opened Friday, enjoyed every moment of Christopher Durang’s deepest and funniest comedy to date.

    “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike,” which won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, is perhaps the best comedy in recent years to hit the American theater. For, because of the depth of its characters and Durang’s skill at its best, it can be taken as light farce or deep comedy. It’s that good — and so is the Weston Playhouse production.

    Vanya and Sonia, brother and adopted sister, live a mundane middle-class existence in Bucks County, Pa. They had devoted themselves to caring for their invalid parents, but since they died there is nothing to do. The only spice in their life is their cleaning lady, Cassandra, who fancies herself a clairvoyant.

    But their life descends into chaos with the arrival of their sister Masha, a most glamorous movie star, who also supports them. Not only is she toting along her latest boy-toy Spike — who, much to Masha’s chagrin, flirts with the gay Vanya — she plans to sell their home. And if this weren’t enough, Spike discovers the cute ingénue Nina next door and throws her into the mix.

    It takes a costume party gone awry to set things straight.

    The Weston Playhouse production, directed by Steve Stettler, the theater’s resident producing artistic director, was certainly funny, but it goes well beyond that. The excellent cast inhabits the characters to the degree that they feel real — we care and the result is not only funny but touching.

    Three familiar Weston actors comprise the family. Amelia White’s performance as the pathetic Sonia was just priceless, from her whining to her sultry Maggie Smith impersonation. David Bonanno is delightfully fretful as the comedy’s not-so-straight straight man. And Susan Haefner is delightfully over the top as the sexually omnivorous and wonderfully self-centered Masha.

    Adding a great deal of spice to the performance is Deonna Bouye’s Cassandra, combining sarcasm and charm wonderfully. Haley Bond, a true innocent as Nina, and Brandon Brea perfectly oblivious as Spike, are their comic foils.

    The only comic misstep at Friday’s opening night was in overplaying Spike’s role, particularly in his “reverse striptease.” It added a silly farcical approach that felt foreign to the rest of the comedy. The dramatic purpose of Spike and Nina is for the main four characters to play off. But that’s certainly a minor quibble.

    Weston’s usual high-level production values prevailed. Howard C. Jones was responsible for the most attractive and effective set, expertly lit by Ann G. Wrightson, with attractive and expressive costumes by Kirche Leigh Zeile.

    “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike” is about as good as a comedy you can see these days — literate without being intellectual — and the Weston Playhouse production enjoys every second of it.

    Weston Playhouse

    Weston Playhouse Theatre Company presents “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” the Christopher Durang comedy, July 17-26 at Weston Playhouse, 12 Park St. (on the Village Green) in Weston. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, plus 2 p.m. matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays. Tickets start at $25; call (802) 824-5288, or go online to www.westonplayhouse.org.
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