REVIEWs OF VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE
By Kathi Bloy
Playwright Christopher Durang is known for offbeat humor that finds its way into disturbing issues. While today’s audiences probably won’t find “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” truly disturbing, the play delves into a number of social issues, wrapped around sibling relationships.
Definitely funny, the scenes move through serious moments when one almost feels the audience thinking, “I’ve felt like that,” or “Yes, I know what s/he means.”
Vanya, Sonia and Masha were brought up by professor parents who named them after Chekov characters, much to the children’s playground chagrin. When we meet the three, they are all middle-aged or older, and the parents have been gone for several years.
Vanya and Sonia are ably played by veteran actors Fran St. Andre and Nancy Ernst. Having performed in a great variety of roles, each was given opportunities in this play to explore some different ground. Both found the hearts of their characters, working their way into the audience’s hearts as well.
Watching Ernst, an English and public speaking teacher, reinvent herself as the dowdy, forgettable Sonia, who has lost her way in life, was refreshing. Ernst demonstrated an honest wistfulness and sad acceptance that had the audience cheering her one grand, triumphant moment. None of us wanted to be Sonia, but we certainly understood her deep in our souls.
St. Andre was so natural in this part that one would believe him content to live uneventfully in a farmhouse, watching animal life at the pond in the family fields. That is certainly a mark of good acting, as those who know St. Andre would describe him as active, engaged, and greatly interested in events around him.
In stark contrast, Cassandra, the raucous, kaleidoscopic housecleaner, shocks the audience into keen attention the moment she takes the stage. Wonderfully physical, laughing and loud, Stephanie Morelock displays an exuberance foreign and sometimes annoying to the two placid residents of the farmhouse.
Jennifer Koroll plays Masha, the successful, wealthy sibling. Her aloof, almost regal entrance gives way to erratic behavior that reveals a deep-seated lack of confidence. No spoiler alerts here, but the audience will be amazed at the perfect timing of her voice as one scene unfolds. You’ll recognize it when you see the show.
Masha’s self-absorbed, much-younger boyfriend, Spike, juxtaposes her insecurity handsomely. Peter Hargarten brings a robust, athletic performance to the role. His out-there, in-your-face lustiness and extreme physical movements are a bit too much for Vanya and Sonia, and the outspoken Cassandra sees right through him.
Spike’s roving eye is caught, at least momentarily, by Nina, a very young lady visiting in the neighborhood. Samantha Taylor did a nice job as Nina, bringing youthful optimism to the admittedly dreary lives of Vanya and Sonia. We hope she’ll return to the Attic stage soon.
Director Berray Billington has put together a very good production with a cast capable of handling the widely diverse characters. Audiences will appreciate Durang’s realistic look at some of the harsher realities of life, softened with welcome humor.
By Warren Gerd
Some plays come at you – WHOOSH – with unexpected energy and turns. One is “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” starting with that title. All the names end up having meaning for playgoers as jaunty playwright Christopher Durang sweeps through topics ranging from Alzheimer’s and loneliness to vanity and the end of the world – with one of theater’s great rants thrown in.
Attic Theatre Inc. has a comical, charming and lively production running at James Perry Theatre at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley to start its season. The acting and directing are keenly honed.
Creative: Playwright – Christopher Durang; director – Berray Billington; stage manager – Laura Schlichting; production designer – Scott Wirtz-Olsen; sound designer – Dana Mehlhorn; props master – Patrick James; assistant production designer – Alesha Hollatz; technical director – Simone E. Tegge;
Cast: Vanya – Fran St. Andre; Sonia – Nancy Ernst; Cassandra – Stephanie Morelock; Masha – Jennifer Koroll; Spike – Peter Hargarten; Nina – Samantha Taylor
Running time: Two hours, 23 minutes
Remaining performances: 2 p.m. June 12, 7 p.m. June 14-16
Some words of caution: The F-bomb is tossed casually, and one of the characters has a penchant for traipsing in his underpants and flaunting his body. Durang has a way of turning on the electricity.
The play is set in the present in a lodge-type residence in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Hint: Think of Door County and some of the nice digs there, plus the similar atmosphere of arts/intellect and a dusting of celebrity. The residence in this play is up the road from where Dorothy Parker once lived – she being a stellar wit with a sting (something akin to Durang in this play).
Performances hum in this production. Director Berray Billington and the players generate a rhythm; folks know what they’re doing.
In the story, Vanya and Sonia are adoptive brother and sister. They’re coasting along living together in the family home. Their parents are deceased, each after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s that was eased (as best as can be) by the care of Vanya and Sonia. The professorial parents named Vanya and Sonia and their sister, Masha, after playwright Anton Chekhov characters. The catalyst for action is Masha is returning to the homestead. She’s a big movie star with a Cinemascope ego – wide screen and colorful – who has gone through five husbands and now has a lover in tow. That would be Spike, Mr. Underpants.
Durang foreshadows everything because he has an out-there character, Cassandra, who gives warnings with her gift of seeing the future. Everybody should have a fortune-teller housekeeper.
Also drifting on the scene is a youthful neighbor, Nina, representing youth and hope.
Each of the players has nifty sequences, thanks to Durang and his or her ability.
As Vanya and Sonia, Fran St. Andre and Nancy Ernst have an acerbic sibling give and take. Ernst has a wonderful solo scene as Sonia, unattached at age 52 because of dutiful commitments, receives a telephone call from an interested widower. St. Andre’s solo roars with fire as Vanya fumes about all the joys of his youth and common experience that today lay in shards of multichannel viewing, tweeting and texting and disconnecting from one another. It’s an astounding monologue, well played.
As Masha, the STAR, Jennifer Koroll clicks. Koroll’s expressions and manner read like a book: Type A, flashy, self-contained, self-absorbed, headstrong, demanding. Koroll has flourishes and flair.
Another cool role is Cassandra, with Stephanie Morelock applying Jamaican voice rhythms and physical aura. The character sings with impish delights as Cassandra not only sees the future, she changes it with voodoo.
As Spike, Peter Hargarten not only supplies the heat of bare skin but touches of sensuality for Masha and shallowness for the rest of the world. Spike’s a taker, and Hargarten taps into that.
Durang has bizarre elements in this play. Nina, the neighbor, is central in one of them as she enacts the role of a molecule in a play that Vanya has written about the end of the world. Samantha Taylor brings a brightness to this, as she does throughout as a sweet young life.
Before seeing “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” the mind registers ????? about the play. Afterward, it’s “Ahh.” The play is an experience, and Attic Theatre does a fine job of making it so.
Most meaningful part: Realizations of the impact of Alzheimer’s within a family.
Importance of the play: Something wholly dramatic can be told in entertaining and comical ways.
NEXT: “Becky’s New Car,” June 23-26, 28-29
THE VENUE: The 361-seat, two-level James W. Perry Hall features a proscenium (flat-front) stage with a substantial performance area of 36 feet wide by 86 feet deep. Acoustic clouds are part of the ceiling. On the side walls are acoustic panels of copper color that matches the woodwork stain on seat backs and arms and on decorative square and rectangular wood panels. The theater is amply equipped and fairly new. The University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley Communication Arts Center opened in 2009. The adjacent lobby is spacious and includes a ticket office, snack service area, restrooms and spaces for art and photo displays.
THE NAMESAKE: James W. Perry is the former dean and campus executive officer of UWFV.
You may email me at email@example.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV between 6 and 7:30 a.m. Sundays.
MUSIC IN THE ATTIC:
A SWELEGANT EVENING WITH COLE PORTER
As a very special addition to our 2016 season, the Attic Theatre will be presenting four concerts, July 27-30 at 8pm in the Lucia Baehman Theater located in the communication arts building on the UW Fox Valley Campus.
Audience members will indulge in an evening of fine wine, food and song as talented performers from around the area will come together to showcase the unforgettable songbook of Cole Porter. Standards such as “I Get a Kick Out of You”, “You’re the Top”, “Anything Goes”, “Don’t Fence Me In” and more, will be enjoyed along with dessert and a glass of champagne.
Seating for this event is limited. Season ticket holders will be afforded first opportunity to purchase seats beginning in March. Online, email and telephone sales for the general public go on sale beginning in April. Ticket cost for this limited seating event is $25/person.
Gift certificates to Attic Theatre performances may be purchased in any amount by calling 920-734-7887, or by visiting our website at attictheatreinc.com
OUR 2016 SEASON!
The Attic Theatre is proud to announce its 2016 summer season: A recent Broadway smash comedy, a funny, touching and original work by one of America’s most prolific playwrights, and a provocative and engaging political drama by Gore Vidal.
The season opens with “Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang, one of America’s most honored and entertaining dramatists. In this story, middle-aged siblings Vanya and Sonia share a home in Bucks County, PA where they bicker and complain about the circumstances of their lives. Suddenly, their movie star sister, Masha swoops in with her new boy toy, Spike. Old resentments flare up, eventually leading to Masha threatening to sell the family home. Sassy maid Cassandra (who can predict the future) meddles with her predictions, while aspiring actress Nina serves as a constant foil for Masha throughout the play, with her youth and beauty. The action takes the audience on a merry tangle to resolve.
“Becky’s New Car” by Steven Dietz is on the bill as the second offering of the season. Caught in middle age, middle management, and in a middling marriage (with no prospects for change on the horizon), Becky shares her lament with the audience. Then one night, a socially inept and grief-stricken millionaire stumbles into the car dealership where Becky works. Offered nothing short of a new life, Becky provides the audience with a chance to ride shotgun in a way most plays would not dare! It is a devious and delightful romp down the road not taken.
Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man” will close the season. William Russell, the ex-Secretary of State is a wit and scholar with high liberal principles, beloved by intellectuals and suspected by practical politicians. Joseph Cantwell is a ruthless and hard-driving young man, a dirty fighter who will let no scruples stand in the way of his ambitions. Arthur Hosckstader, is the ex-president who loves politics for its own sake; and a man who admires arough-and-tumble battler more than a chivalrous one, is determined to have the final say in the selection of his party’s candidate. This all provides the perfect framework for vivid scenes, as Vidal contrasts the minds, emotions and battling spirits of a two presidential candidates, and two political parties. What an incredible offering for an election year!
Gift certificates available year-round, but especially popular at Christmastime, may be purchased in any amount by calling 920-734-7887, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Orders received by December 14th will be delivered before Christmas.
CREATING EXCELLENT COMMUNITY THEATRE
Attic Theatre was founded in 1950 in the attic of the Cloak family home on North Union Street in Appleton, Wisconsin. What began as an acting class has become the longest running community theatre in the Fox Valley. In the early days, Attic performed in a variety of venues such as Jefferson School and local church basements. When Lawrence University opened the Music-Drama Center, Attic began its lengthy partnership with LU, employing both theatres during the summer months. Our newest venue, the beautiful UW Fox Valley Communication Arts Center, affords the opportunity to produce a wider array of plays with greater audience appeal.
From simple beginnings, Attic has grown to produce hundreds of full-scale shows over a span of more than 60 years. In addition to a full summer season, Attic currently offers a popular children’s workshop in the spring and a weeklong day camp in the summer.
Each year, thousands of people participate in Attic Theatre on stage, backstage, as volunteers, or as audience members. Ticket sales exceed 5,000 annually. Attic truly does create excellent community theatre.
ADVERTISE IN OUR 2016 PLAYBILL
BOX OFFICE AND PERFORMANCES
UW-Fox Valley Communication Arts Center, 1478 Midway RD, Menasha, WI
4 WAYS TO PURCHASE TICKETS:
CALL: Attic Theatre Box Office - 920-734-7887
- June 1-3 from 1 to 7 pm
- From June 7 - July 30:
- Tuesdays thru Fridays from 1 to 7 pm
- Saturday show dates from 6 to 7 pm
- Sunday show dates from 1 to 2 pm
- Closed July 3-11
The box office is located at the UW Fox Valley Communication Arts Center, 1478 Midway RD, Menasha, WI.
ONLINE: General public sales start April 10. Vendini processing charges will apply to online orders
NOTE: Student tickets are $10 with ID. Select "student ticket" from the dropdown menu. We offer a 10 per cent group discount for sales of 10 or more tickets per performance.