Trinity Rep’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” Wild, Almost Wooly

Dec 2, 2013

Vanya (Brian McEleney), Masha (Phyllis Kay), Cassandra (Tangela Large) and Spike (Mark Larson) in "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" by Christopher Durang.
Credit Mark Turek / Trinity Rep

Ah, yes. Good old Chris Durang. What’s he gotten into now? Over the years he’s been known for such ideosyncratic shows as “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, “The Marriage of Bette and Boo” and, of course, “The Idiots Kasamazov.”

But Durang’s nicely into his 60’s now. Perhaps he’s calmed down a bit?

Well, no. “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” concerns Bucks County, PA., Snow White, licking postage stamps, movie stars, the theatuh, voodoo, pricks, getting old and the significance of the blue heron. Among many other things.

Directed by Curt Columbus, it’s wild and almost wooly, played with a reach for high, absurdist style by some of Trinity top actors. Throw in many an inside references to characters from Mr. Chekhov and “Vanya” and so forth sometimes reaches high levels of humor.

And Mr. Durang does have a point: At his age, he’s saying, he’s realized that when you get older it’s time to count your blessings a bit, stop twisting yourself into a pretzel over past errors, not to mention the dirty deals you’ve suffered.

Admirable, all that. And “Vanya” etc. does have its moments. I must admit that the audience I saw it with Tuesday night – regular Trinity subscribers rather the usual press night acolytes – seemed, mostly, to be having a high old time.

But I found the play overdone both in its sheer length of nearly 2 ½ hours and in its consistent drive to play and re-play the gags, the inside references.

Oh, I’ve forgotten to mention the plot. In dear old Bucks County, a far off suburb of some wealth and privilege, we find Vanya and Sonia two very American types with Russian names. (Their parents were professors and community theater participants.) Played with considerable drive by Brian McEleney and Janice Duclos, the pair is surrounded by their own despair. And only Chris Durang can make despair funny. They battle and cut each other. Crockery is destroyed, and so is any comfort for the battling two.

Then, enter their sister Masha, a Movie Star! Who never lets you forget it. Phyllis Kay plays her with all the bravado and insecurity you’ expect. In tow, the Star has Spike, a stud of a young actor played by Mark Larson who spends much of his time running about in his underpants.

Crazy enough for you? Ha!

Enter, Cassandra, an African-American servant. Done with wide-eyed energy by Tangela Large, she voodoos her way to . . . somewhere. To add to the foolish fun there’s an aspiring theatuh actress. Played with kooky drive by Sylvia Kates, she completes a full Durang ménage.

But, as I’ve said, it’s all too much. Slicing and dicing and perhaps adding a bit more seriousness to the play would help a lot. One example: Brian McEleney’s old-timer launches into a tale of the wonders of the old days, when you wrote letters and licked stamps and so forth. It’s quite fine, funny and real, but just plain goes on and on.

Less is more, they always say. That’s certainly true of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” I think.

Want to Go?

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” continues at Trinity Rep through December 22nd.

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