Gainesville’s Hippodrome Theatre opened “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” a zany comedy that was awarded the 2013 Tony for Best Play. The production opened January 9, 2015 and will remain on stage until February 1 in the theatre in downtown Gainesville.
The play was written by 66-year-old Christopher Durang, whose name might not be familiar to some younger theatre goers. Over the years, a number of his absurdist, outrageous comedies have graced several venues in the North Florida area, including “Beyond Therapy”, “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You”, “The Marriage of Bette and Boo,” and “Betty’s Summer Vacation.”
In “Vanya,” Durang pulls a little “Shakespeare” and borrows bits and pieces from playwright Chekhov in a hilarious fashion. So, do you have to be familiar with the 19th century Russian playwright to enjoy this play? Absolutely not, but if you happen to be a fan of Chekhov’s major plays (Cherry Orchard, Seagull, Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya) the comedy will be a special treat as you encounter the allusions and jokes woven throughout the script.
The play is set is present day Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in a two-story home in an exclusive neighborhood. The occupants are a brother and sister in their fifties. Sonia (Sara Morsey) and Vanya (Tom Foley) have apparently never worked; instead they took care of their parents until they died, and now, for financial support, depend on the largess of their younger sister Masha (Nell Page), who owns the property. Movie star Masha previously made a small fortune as the lead in five films featuring a nymphomaniac serial killer. While she is an attractive lady, who has been married and divorced five times, her career is currently waning.
Another important character in this saga and a regular in the household is Cassandra (Lauren Caldwell), an odd and outspoken housekeeper who practices voodoo and chants “Beware, Beware” at intervals, as might be expected from a woman named for the ancient Greek prophetess of doom.
Sonia has never had a relationship and neither has Vanya, who is gay. They spend a lot of time drinking coffee and sitting in the living room looking at the wildlife in the lake in their backyard .
Things start popping when Masha arrives suddenly for one of her infrequent visits. She has brought Spike (Ryan George), her current boyfriend, along. He is a 29 year old body builder boy toy who enjoys walking around in his underwear. Expect to be impressed by his pushups. Masha has been invited to a neighborhood costume party and has invited her siblings to accompany her, along with Nina (Megan Wicks), a young neighbor.
The remainder of Act One is filled with planning for the party, with Masha dressing as Snow White and Sonia, Vanya, and Nina costumed as her dwarfs. Sonia, who has other ideas, buys a beautiful sequined red dress and goes off to the party as a Maggie Smith imitator on her way to pick up her Oscar.
Act Two is more reflective and poignant as Vanya showcases a play he has written. There are two excellent monologues. One is by Vanya, who becomes pensive about the past, specifically about the 50s, and repeatedly tells us how sad he is that he can no longer lick postage stamps, since cell phones have made letters obsolete. He misses many TV personalities, like Bishop Sheen and Ozzie and Harriet. The other monologue is by Sonia while on the phone with a man she met at the party. Both are moving and well performed.
To tell you more about the plot would be a spoiler, but we will say there is a happy ending.
One of the many new things happening at the Hipp under the direction of Jessica Hurov, the new Managing Director, is the establishment of the Hippodrome Acting Company, a resident group; four of the six actors in this show are members. The casting is exemplary is this current production, which is consistent with our past experience as reviewers of the theatre’s excellent work.
The scenic design by Mihai Ciupe is spectacular, depicting a spacious, comfortable home. The costume design by Zackery Ryan shows a lot of imagination and fits right in with the offbeat theme by Durang.
The Hippodrome posts the running time of each act and intermission on both doors to the seating area, and we wish more Jacksonville theatres would do this. The Hipp has also added video billboards to the walls on both sides of the stage, with announcements of coming events.
The play was directed by David Shelton, a retired University of Florida professor of theatre and dance. He has directed over fifty plays and appeared in a number of productions as an actor at UF. He has directed and appeared in a number of shows at the Hipp as well, and we anticipate his return for future productions.
Coming up at the Hippodrome on February 20, 2015 is “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play,” directed by Artistic Director Laura Caldwell. On April 10, the comedy “The Two Musketeers” by Jon Jory, longtime Director at Actors Theatre of Louisville, will follow.
For tickets and additional information, call 352-375-4477 or visit www.thehipp.org.