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Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, interrupted
Even though I was trained to be a Navy cook, when I reached my command onboard the U.S.S John F. Kennedy (CV-67) I was sent to the damage control division. My job for the rest of my enlistment was to make ready all firefighting equipment, safety devices, and water-tight doors under the responsibility of my division. When the call to stations was announced during drills and actual casualties, I responded to the aft gear locker, where I donned a firefighting suit and readied myself for any fire in my vicinity. I ate, drank, and slept (figuratively) firefighting for more than three years.
So, I was amazed at my lack of response when the fire alarm went off in the Sharadin Bigler Theatre Thursday, June 9. It was opening night of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” and like the majority of people in the audience I simply stayed seated until an EPAC member announced the theater needed to be evacuated.
I heard the rushing of water as it emptied the building’s sprinkler system, automatically triggering the fire alarm, which sounded at the end of the first scene in act two of the Christopher Durang comedy. Later, EPAC Board President Rich Repkoe let theatre-goers know a pipe burst in the basement, which resulted in the draining of the sprinkler system. Opening night attendees were given a code for complimentary tickets to a future show. That night, the show must not go on, but it did not stop people from flocking to the after party conveniently held at the American Legion Post 429. But, back to the show …
In full disclosure, I was not able to return on a later date to catch the rest of the second act due to other obligations. So this is what I do know of the hilarious “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” We first meet Vanya (Ed Fernandez) and Sonia (Sharon Mellinger) over a cup of coffee in their pond-side, family home in Bucks County, PA. The siblings seem to have spent the majority of their lives together, and have stayed in the home to look after their aging parents who are now deceased. After a few coffee mugs go crashing into the dining room, we meet Cassandra (Blessing Robinson), the housecleaner. She is a spirited woman, bent on predicting the future of anyone in her radius. Vanya and Sonia have another sibling, Masha (Cynthia Charles), who has become a famous actress via a successful movie franchise. She is a self-centered egomaniac teetering on the edge of depression due to her increasing age. She’s returned home bearing bad news and brought with her Spike (Brian Viera). Spike, the boy toy, is a talentless young actor driven by appearance and lust — he is hysterical, and represents the “new” generation of Americans. During the visit, he meets the neighbor, Nina (Jennifer Amentt), who is a huge fan of Masha. Masha sees Nina as a rival and is scared she’ll steal away the young Spike. Will she?
The start of the second act sees the siblings return from a costume party where Masha has forced her will upon the group, except for Sonia, and created a Snow White theme for the crew. One of the EPAC highlights is seeing artistic director and actor Fernandez dressed in the orange and yellow garb of a Disney dwarf. He shows off his years of experience by commanding his role as impassioned peacekeeper (at least in the first act), all the while sharing the comedic spotlight.
The crowd favorite on opening night was Mellinger. Her lovable delivery allowed wit to outweigh sadness in this play that pits one against the other. At sometimes heartbreaking, and at other times hilarious, EPAC’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is a pure joy and accentuates all that is great about live theater, while showing us all what is universal about our lives. It is a comedy reminiscent of wonderful television like “The Odd Couple” and “Seinfeld.”
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is not all laughs. Director Pat Kautter wrote in his playbill note: “We feel our relevancy diminished because so many of the events and social standards that were significant to us no longer hold weight with the younger generation.” This is the crux of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” and could not be summed up any better.
About this comedy Durang has said, “my play is not a Chekhov parody … I take Chekhov scenes and characters and put them into a blender.”
There is a bit of need-to-know film, theatre, and literature knowledge needed to completely grasp all the comedic allusions, but the delivery allows us to laugh at jokes we may not even get.
Hats off to Robinson who is making her EPAC debut! She delivers complex and demanding lines with rapid-fire accuracy and amazing skill. The cast of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” feels so natural; I forgot where I was and simply got lost in the story … until that darn fire alarm let loose.
Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.