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May 4, 2015

Cleveland Play House farce is a world of contradictions

By Elisabeth Weems

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is a witty comedy doting on an unsatisfactory past and realistic, sibling bickering. So begins the marvelous performance of the lengthy-named, domestic comedy with Chekhov undertones.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike took center stage at the Cleveland Play House’s (CPH) Allen Theater from April 3-26. This season, the professional, regional theatre is celebrating its 100th birthday.

This Tony Award-winning farce was written by Christopher Durang and directed by Bruce Jordan. The two-act, 135 minute performance was co-produced with the Geva Theatre Center of Rochester, N.Y.

Sonia (Toni Dibuono) and Vanya (John Scherer) are adopted sister and brother who live together in their quiet, childhood home.

Now in their fifties, they routinely begin every day in the “morning room,” sipping coffee and looking out for a blue heron to visit the nearby pond; a “good omen,” says Sonia.

Most of the story unfolds in the highly decorated and realistic house. The walls and shelves of the life-like home are canvassed with family photographs, trinkets, artwork, statues of intellectuals and dozens of books.

The set looks as though a giant claw plucked the cobblestone dwelling and its surroundings directly from the woods of Bucks County, Pa. (where the story is set) and delivered it to CPH’s stage.

The siblings’ lives are monotonous and predictable, a stark contrast to that of their 42-year-old, B-list movie star sister Masha (Margaret Reed). She pays her relatives a visit, bringing along her boyfriend Spike (Gregory Isaac Stone), a much younger and gorgeous mediocre actor.

Despite her fame and abundant riches, the high-strung Masha also regrets her life path, which is at the intersection of Insecurity Lane and Dependency Boulevard. She laments her choice to become a global celebrity, as opposed to a classical actress.

Cassandra (Danielle Lee Greaves), is the superstitious, prophesying cleaning woman whose frequent warnings to “beware!” often come true. Her voodoo doll rituals and waving of a multi-colored ribbon baton to ward off negative energy evoked constant chuckles from the audience that acted as a live laugh track.

Most of the copious, diverse comedy is embedded throughout the dialogue, but a tremendous amount of physical humor results from Spike’s sexuality and idiocy.

At one point, Vanya directs an emotional rant toward Spike about how inept and disconnected his technology-addicted generation is, as he reflects on the past with great sentiment.

A fantastic contradiction to Spike’s character was Nina (Maren Bush), a young and spritely aspiring actress, who gave hope for a new generation of the well-mannered, cultured and intelligent.

The leitmotif of the storyline is the nostalgia that older generations feel toward the past and the reluctance to accept change.

This play is entrenched in juxtapositions; of American culture today and yesteryear, the young and the aged and of regret and optimism.