The Hottest Play In America – “VANYA and SONIA and MASHA and SPIKE”

PLAYERS BY THE SEA THEATRE REVIEW

Do you want to see the hottest play in America these days? Then plan a trip to Jacksonville Beach to Players by the Sea during the run of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” to see a comedy filled with laughs that is sure to please. It opened on April 10, 2015 and will be on stage at 106 North Sixth Street through April 25. Call 249-0289 for reservations or visit playersbythesea.org.

Why is this play so popular? It was written by Christopher Durang, known for off-kilter comedy since his college days, who shows that at age sixty-six his wit and play-writing skills remain sharply honed. In 2013, the play was awarded a Tony for Best Play.

The show is set in a lovely farm house in an affluent area in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It opens with Vanya and Sonia, two middle-aged siblings, having their morning coffee together, while looking out over the lake. Sonia (who was adopted), has never had a job or a date, and humorously wallows in self-pity, describing herself as “in mourning for my life.” Vanya is a wannabe playwright who also has never worked; he is gay but has never had a partner. They have lived together in the same house since childhood and spent their later years as caretakers for their aging parents, who are now deceased.

Their home belongs to their younger sister Masha, who is at the tail end of a successful career as a Hollywood actress. She was featured in a series of five movies as a nymphomaniac serial killer. And while the role was financially rewarding, it was professionally disappointing, as she had hoped to become a classical actress on the stage. Masha has supported her siblings for years with her earnings and has managed to go through five husbands.

The outspoken Cassandra is employed as a part-time housekeeper; she is named after the ancient Greek prophetess of doom. Cassandra lives up to her name by combining her cleaning duties with chanted warnings and voodoo practices. Rakia May makes her Players debut in this role. Beach residents know Ms. May from her fine performance as Ti Moune in “Once on This Island” at ABET.

Things become exciting when Masha makes an unexpected visit home, along with Spike, a gorgeous boy toy in his late twenties. She has been invited to a neighbor’s costume party, and insists that her brother and sister, along with Spike, must go with her. She will be costumed as Snow White, the others as supporting characters. She also brings upsetting news: she is thinking of selling the house. Hillary Hickam is making a fabulous debut as Masha and brings an impressive acting resume from Los Angeles and New York. Ms. Hickam was a veterinarian who practiced in Hollywood before moving to this area and still works part time in that field.

Robert Boaz is also new to Players and is spectacular as the uninhibited Spike who likes to parade around in his underwear. He is slim; trim, and sexy and you would not find an ounce of fat on his body. And yes, he has those sensual moves down pat.

The last time we saw Robert Banks on stage at Players was as Pontius Pilate in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Banks is quite a comedian as well, and as Vanya he really hits his stride when he is asked by Masha to go to the party dressed in the costume she has chosen for him, giving the audience the opportunity to see a man built like a defensive lineman from the Jacksonville Jaguars in a dwarf suit.

Sonia rebels, she’s not going to the party dressed as a dwarf. She buys her own costume and goes as an impersonator of Maggie Smith at the Oscars. She caught tile eye of a man who calls her the next day to ask for a date. As Sonia, Simone Aden-Reid displays the talents that have made her one of the most in demand local actresses for the past twenty years. Her phone conversation, a monologue, was one of the highlights of the play and was a crowd favorite.

Rounding out the cast is Nina, played by Jayme Hillyer, an attractive young neighbor; she and Spike met while swimming in the lake. She is invited to the party and shows up in an abbreviated costume. Masha, who is possessive and concerned about Spike’s interest in Nina, insists she dress instead in the outfit of an oversized dwarf.

Act Two brings a resolution to the family’s problems, and of note, has Banks as Vanya deliver a wonderful, animated monologue about the good old days. He misses simple things like hand-written letters, and typewriters and dial telephones, and points out other losses and shortcomings of modern times.

Director Post to Post Links II error: No post found with slug "Jason Collins"adds another cutting-edge play to the impressive resume of plays he has directed over the years on local stages, which have recently included “Clybourne Park” at Limelight Theatre, and “Lombardi” at Theatre Jacksonville. He is an award-winning performer as well. A favorite role that still makes us chuckle is his performance as Dr. Givings in “The Vibrator Play.”

The production staff included Jim Wiggins (Technical Director), Nicole Kosnik (Lighting Designer), Gayle Featheringill and Jane LaRoque (Costume Designers), and Tom Fallon (Scenic Designer).

You may have noticed that four of the characters have the names of people found in Anton Chekhov‘s plays, and if you are familiar with his work, will notice many references to themes and characters found in “Uncle Vanya,” “The Seagull,” “The Three Sisters,” and “The Cherry Orchard.” You don’t have to have any knowledge of Chekhov or his work to enjoy Durang’s play, but if you are interested, you will find the program contains an informative discussion related to this topic, written by Holly Gutshall, Player’s resident dramaturg. Don’t miss this hilarious show!

Next up for Players is “Mr. Burns, a Post Electric Play” in the Studio Theatre, opening May 8, 2015.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.

april, 2022

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