Hippodrome Stages A Fantastic VANYA and SONYA and MASHA and SPIKE (and CASSANDRA!)

IMG_1151Highly Recommended    Reviewed by: Letitia Carelock

On January 9, 2015, the Hippodrome theatre was lucky enough to premiere a local performance of Christopher Durang’s comedic play “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” The night was filled to burst with off-kilter humor, boisterous acting, and a sweet modern message about the importance of appreciating what one has instead dreaming about the seemingly greener grass on the other side of the fence.

The original play, which premiered September 7, 2012 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, starred David Hyde Pierce, Sigourney Weaver, Kristine Nielsen, Billy Magnussen, Shalita Grant, and Genevieve Angelson. It was nominated for six Tony Awards, won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, and went on to win several different Broadway and off-Broadway awards, making it the perfect fit for the creative cast and crew at the Hippodrome theatre.

The play tells the tale of three middle-aged siblings: Vanya (Tom Foley), Sonia (Sara Mosley), and Masha (Nell Page). Vanya and Sonia have been staying in their parents’ home after taking care of them until they passed several years prior, and are both in mourning of their lack of adventurous or interesting lives. Both are unmarried, without jobs, and spend their days doing little other than reading or bird-watching. They are taken care of by Cassandra (Lauren Warhol Caldwell), a self-professed psychic who warns them of Masha’s arrival bringing disaster to them.

Masha, however, is a famous actress, and decides to drop in on them with her twenty-something (or perhaps even younger) boyfriend Spike (Ryan George). Masha regales them with overblown tales of her fame and fortune, which vexes Sonia greatly as she is bitter about being such a shut-in, before telling them they’ve been invited to a costume party in the neighborhood. Seeing a chance to finally live a little, Sonia and Vanya agree to go. However, Masha insists they have to go tied to her costume—that of Disney’s Snow White—but Sonia refuses, finding her own costume at a local store. They also meet a pretty young aspiring actress named Nina (Megan Wicks) who was visiting relatives next door. Masha is distraught when Spike brings Nina over to the house, paranoid that he’ll run off with her. IMG_0953

Just before they leave for the party, Masha drops the bomb that she wants to sell their parents’ house, claiming that she doesn’t have as much money as she used to and can’t pay the bills. Vanya and Sonia are devastated, but attend the party anyway before trying to figure out what they will do without the home they grew up in.

The play’s strongest quality is the biting humor and wit of its characters. Masha is very much a diva, making every conversation she can about her accomplishments and grand lifestyle while also revealing what an insecure wreck she is deep down. Vanya is the calm older brother who tries to keep Masha and Sonia from being at each other’s throats while also finding that he has a connection with Nina, who learns that he wrote a play and encourages him to let her perform it in front of the others. Sonia is a fantastic opposing force to Masha’s ego with her dry sarcasm and refusal to play into her stepsister’s fake world where everything is about her. Spike is the stereotypical hot guy with zero brains and his obliviousness to his lack of acting talent is astounding as well as hysterical. Cassandra is sarcastic, surly, and absolutely shameless in every sense of the word. Nina is sweet, naïve, and hopeful, which is badly needed among the cynical little family she finds herself a part of as the play progresses.

By far, the standout performance for this local adaptation of the play is Lauren Warhol Caldwell as Cassandra. She inspired belly-aching peals of laughter from the audience with her nonsensical predictions and flat sarcasm towards the members of the household. Caldwell is followed closely by Sara Mosley, who knew just when to play Sonia as a little pathetic and when to fill her with energy for some truly unmatched deadpan one-liners.

Conversely, Tom Foley as Vanya left a bit to be desired. It felt as if he didn’t quite have the same resonance for his character that the other actors in the troupe did. He played him straightforwardly, but he disappeared into the background often when Sonia, Masha, or Cassandra were in the room. His character arc was written adequately, but overall, it seemed as if he would have a larger part than to simply have a twenty-minute rant about licking stamps and remembering the ways of the 1950’s and 60’s.

The play’s ending is also predictable and borderline saccharine, but it’s still very nice to see the characters work out the various problems in their relationships and realize that the future is more important than lamenting the past. The heart of the play lies in its ability to make the audience care about what happens to the core group, and it accomplishes that within the first five minutes easily.

Whether it’s the amazing actors of the Hippodrome or the original cast on Broadway, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is a fantastic, wicked little play that you won’t want to miss.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs through February 1, 2015 at the Hippodrome Theatre.  For more information visit thehipp.org



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