'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike'

WESTON - In a talk preceding the preview performance of Weston's production of the Tony Award winning comedy, "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," Director Steve Stettler commented that it was not just an homage to Chekov's plays, although it was that. Playwright Christopher Durang, accomplished and successful and now in his sixties, decided to situate the play where he lived in a rural section of Bucks County, Pennsylvania and people it with quirky but lovable characters loosely based on longtime friends and collaborators.

Weston's delightful and satisfying production is largely due to an ensemble of actors that included many faces familiar to area audiences, who allowed Durang's comedy to breathe and make its points at a sometimes measured and sometimes frenetic pace. It was a pleasure to spend an evening with them.

We are first introduced to Vanya and Sonia, still living in the farmhouse they grew up in, and supported financially by their sister, Masha, a famous movie actress. Having devoted well over a decade taking care of their aging parents, academics who named their children after characters in plays of Anton Chekov, neither Vanya nor Sonia is able find their own way after their parents' deaths, or for that matter, to even leave the house.

Enter Masha, in from Hollywood with a much younger and virile man in tow named Spike. Masha plans to sell the rambling house that Vanya and Sonia call home and she calls a money pit. Sprinkle in a maid named Cassandra who doubles as a seer, and a star-struck young neighbor who catches Spike's eye and Masha's jealous ire, and you have the Durang's recipe for an interesting weekend in the country.

The playwright gave each of his characters a solo turn and each actor made the most of it. Amelia White, recently seen on the Dorset stage in "Boeing, Boeing" and "Barefoot in the Park," literally sparkled in a sequined number that allowed Sonia, for once, to outshine her famous sister at a costume party, and let all know it in no uncertain terms. When Sonia's moment arrived, in the form of an invitation from a man she met at the party, White, a seasoned pro, gave this tart-tongued Cinderella a certain grace when Sonia decided to accept the invitation. The audience broke into applause.

Weston regular David Bonanno ably embodied the unassuming Vanya, who, when confronted with Spike's rude behavior, erupted into a hilarious tirade against everything from cellphones to self-licking stamps. Susan Haefner, another Weston favorite, mined a lot of laughs as Masha flaunted her narcissism and even earned Masha some sympathy when the five-times married and divorced star had her comeuppance.

Deonna Bouye seized the stage with her turn as the aptly-named Cassandra, who dramatically offered cryptic warnings one second and deadpanned that lunch was being served the next. Brandon Drea was believable as the self-absorbed and often clueless Spike, who posed and flexed enthusiastically. As Nina, Haley Bond gave her character a charming naiveté.

The comfortable farmhouse setting by Designer Howard C. Jones beckoned us to join Vanya for a cup of morning coffee and watch the loons alight on the pond. You don't need to know Chekov to enjoy "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike." You just need to long for those around you to pay attention, and for the world to be as simple as it once seemed to be.

Performances of "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" continue at the air-conditioned Weston Playhouse through July 26. For tickets, call (802) 824-5288 or visit online at www.westonplayhouse.org.


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