Plosive Production’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a two-act production with plenty of tongue-in-cheek Chekhovian references for the well-read and relatable family conundrums and existential humour for all.
Middle-aged siblings Vanya (Chris Ralph) and Sonia (Mary Ellis) live humdrum lives in their childhood home in Pennsylvania. That is, until their static daily routine is disrupted by the arrival of their vainglorious movie-star sister and benefactor Masha (Teri Loretto-Valentik), with arm-candy Spike (Drew Moore) in tow. To her siblings’ despair, Masha announces her intent to sell the family home. Deep-seated sibling rivalries and mid-life crises mingle as the characters discover what it truly means to live.
Much of the comedy of this play is within the interplay of the central characters. A significant portion of the first act verges on dry with somewhat unemotional dialogue between Ralph and Ellis. Prolonged ruminations of “tedious days and tedious nights” spent wasting away at home can quite simply become tedious to watch.
However, with the arrival of Teri Loretto-Valentik as Masha, the dysfunctional family dynamic of the three siblings is relatable and heartfelt. The contrast between Ellis and Loretto-Valentik is particularly entertaining. Watching Loretto-Valentik devolve into childish fits of insecurity while Ellis simultaneously emerges with renewed confidence in the lead-up to an A-list party is one of the most compelling examples of the complex familial power struggle.
The standout performance is by Beverley Wolfe as Cassandra, the eccentric prophesying Greek housemaid. Wolfe’s spontaneous predictions and voodoo doll antics add a welcome light-hearted silliness to the production. Also worth highlighting is Drew Moore’s Spike, whose preening re-enactment of his over-the-top audition for a Hollywood movie is one of the most hilarious moments of the show. With their energy, both Wolfe and Moore consistently brought me back into the okay when it started to lag.
The play’s pacing is something of a rollercoaster, with more than one scene that does not seem to quite fit the tone of the play – Vanya’s reading of his play about molecules in Act II, for instance. However funny or well-acted, it was oftentimes hard to focus on the central conflict because of these tangents.
The humour of this production is largely generational. It is a more mature audience who chuckles knowingly at Vanya’s monologue lamenting the lost art of licking postage stamps and the cancellation of The Bishop Sheen Show. Reflection upon long lives lived – or perhaps unlived – is what ultimately gives this production depth.
But still, there is something relatable for everyone. And with dark existential humour and intriguing interpersonal narratives, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is suitably entertaining.
But that’s just my opinion and I would love to know what you think? Join the discussion and let me know in the comments below.