Review: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

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Nashville Rep wraps up its 30th season with a spectacular comedy, April 11 - 25.

Nashville Rep presents:
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (April 11 – 25; Ages 14 and older)
TPAC’s Johnson Theater
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
615-782-4040 • nashvillerep.org
Show times: Tue – Thu 6:30 p.m., Fri 7:30 p.m., Sat 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $47.50

Nashville Rep winds up its magnificent 30th season with a spectacular production of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Masha and Sonia and Spike.

Winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, Durang’s comedy pulls from certain elements of Anton Chekhov’s works, including several of the characters’ names, the setting in a (questionable) cherry orchard and the potential loss of a family home. Don’t worry, lack of knowledge of Chekhov’s material doesn’t mean you’ll be lost in this play — it’s full of humor on its own, but if you are familiar with the Russian playwright, you’ll definitely get more of the underlying references along the way.

Gary Hoff’s highly detailed design perfectly sets the present-day scene inside the Bucks County, Penn. farm house where the action takes place, and Director Nate Eppler’s impeccable cast — Bobby Wyckoff (Vanya), Martha Wilkinson (Sonia), Shelean Newman (Masha), Tamiko Robinson Steele (Cassandra), Brett Cantrell (Spike) and Jennifer Richmond (Nina) — delivers two-and-a-half hours of solid entertainment even though at times Durang’s script seems too lengthy and occasionally hinges on predictable. Despite that, the playwright infuses an array of juicy lines into his six characters, and the Nashville Rep cast knocks them out of the park.

The story follows three 50-something siblings whose burden in life began by their community-theater-loving college-professor parents naming them after Chekhov characters. Droopy gay Vanya and lovelorn Sonia live together in their family home, having spent years taking care of their ailing (and now deceased) parents. Narcissistic movie star Masha — known mostly for her roles in a cheesy “Sexy Killer” movie franchise — shows up with her 20-something boy toy, Spike (whose real name is Vlad, an ego-centric hopeful actor who almost got cast in Entourage 2), with plans to sell the house that she’s been paying for. Insecurities among the siblings surface fast along with rivalries and regrets, and therefore, hilarity ensues.

Each cast member gives a distinctly memorable performance. Wilkinson masterfully propels her character from valleys of depression to mountaintops of energetic hysteria, while Newman plays the unraveling of Masha’s insecurities to the hilt — the pair’s mutual, on-the-floor meltdown/sobbing fit is epic.

Cantrell delivers some of the best lines in the play as the shallow, body-conscious, likes-to-strip-down-to-his-underwear Spike. His reverse strip-tease scene is one of the show’s funniest moments. Steele makes her Nashville Rep debut as the peculiar  Cassandra, and she gives a strong, comical performance as the voodoo-practicing housekeeper who continually spouts prophecies of doom. Also making her first Nashville Rep main stage appearance is Richmond, who brings a fresh quality to the young Nina, an aspiring actress who catches Spike’s wandering eye along with Masha’s fury at the same time.

Wyckoff’s character is the most interesting in Durang’s play, and the local stage veteran plays it with great skill. For most of the play, Wyckoff takes an appropriately subdued approach to Vanya, and the delivery of his rampaging monologue toward the end of the show is pure gold as he laments all that’s become lost in his life, from black-and-white TV with only three channels to postage stamps that require licking being a thing of the past with the advent of the modern-day self-adhesive variety.

Throughout the play, Durang’s craft shines bright in is his way of anchoring his characters’ resentments in humor, and the Nashville Rep cast certainly makes Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike an enjoyable theatrical experience.

 

 

 

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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