Honoring Chekov in Contemporary America

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which seems to be this year’s “regional favorite”, meaning that it’s appearing at many theaters across the country, will conclude a successful Michigan premiere run at the Tipping Point Theatre this afternoon. I was happy to be in the audience for Friday evening’s performance.

The play explores a modest web of relationships among siblings living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The titular Vanya and Sonia, so named by their theatre professor parents, live a quiet life in the country with occasional visits from neighbor and housekeeper Cassandra. The characters suggest they are not exactly happy with their idyllic existence, and it is quickly upended by the arrival of their sister Masha, a flashy and dramatic New York actress who pays the bills for their family home. Masha brings along her much younger boyfriend, Spike, while the group is later joined by neighbor Nina, a younger budding starlet who is familiar with Masha’s acting career and has her own dreams about a life in the spotlight.

Christopher Durang’s script initially leans heavily on expository rather than natural – seeming dialogue, but seems to find its groove as the play goes along. Preparation for an important local party is a highlight of the story, as Masha initiates an idea for all of them to reference Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, only to be upstaged by a different plan from Sonia. The party itself is left unseen, and the aftermath has a range of effects for all of the characters.

Tipping Point’s black box space was put to excellent use for this production, with a long promenade suggesting a sunroom or living room and an entry to the rest of the house in the rear of the stage. Modest sound design suggested the outer world of the play. Lighting design was also subtle and effective, with shadows on stage left in a morning scene giving way to the opposite effect for an evening scene, and brighter colors for solely interior sequences.

A tight knit ensemble of local actors had clearly been having a great time with the script and production, led by director James Kuhl. Real life couple John Seibert and Terry Heck feature as the siblings, and have many moments of playful, yet layered interaction. Janet Maylie brings suitably throaty and dramatic flair to the role of Masha, and seems to offer exactly the type of woman the script suggests. Brian Thibault has fun “playing dumb” and bouncing around the stage as Spike. Sonja Marquis brings inventive comedic choices and strong presence to what could have been an underwritten role as Cassandra. And Tara Tomcsik portrays Nina as an archetypal ingenue with a combination of starry eyed wanderlust and klutzy ditzy charm.


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