Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: PENDRAGON THEATRE BRINGS BELLY LAUGTHS AND GOOD FUN WITH VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Pendragon Theatre
What: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike won the 2013 Tony award for Best Play. Written by Christopher Durang, this play centers around three siblings, their housekeeper, one adoring neighbor and a 20ish boy toy.  
Where: PendragonTheatre, 15 Brandy Brook Ave, Saranac Lake, 518-891-1854, 
Advanced tickets price: $25/adult, $22/senior, $15/student with ID, $20/matinee
At Door ticket price: $30/adult, $27/senior, $20/student, $15/matinee
When: Saranac Lake: July 29, 30, 31, August 1,4,5,6,7 at 8 pm with a matinee at 2 pm on August 2


PENDRAGON THEATRE BRINGS BELLY LAUGTHS AND GOOD FUN
WITH VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE

Cassandra (Christina Eskridge) predicts the future
(SARANAC LAKE)  The comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is as long in name as it is in laughs. Directed by Shawna Mefferd Kelty, this captivating show is set in present time Bucks County where middle-aged siblings Vanya and Sonia bicker over coffee, the definition of an orchard and the next stage of their lives. Having taken care of their now deceased parents and put their own lives on hold while their movie star sibling, Masha, supports them, Vanya and Sonia brood as if characters in a Chekhov play for which they are all named.

Mefferd-Kelty pulls a top-notch performance from her ensemble cast. The sound design (playlist is below) was intriguing and added depth and grace to the already stellar play, Bonnie Brewer’s light design provided a warm glow to Set Designer Tijana Bjelajac’s comfy country house sitting room.

Sonia (Allison Studdiford) and Vanya (Christopher Leifheit) are
surprised to find that Masha plans to sell their home
The action is slow-starting as gentle Vanya (Christopher Leifheit) quietly sips his coffee. His motions are so controlled, from his tightly pressed together legs to his hands resting on his lap. He never loses his temper even when his more volatile adopted sister Sonia (Allison Studdiford) throws a coffee cup and bemoans her stagnant life choices with such statements as “I am the wild turkey,” a nod to Chekhov’s famous line in “The Seagull.” Leifheit’s Vanya is the perfect straight man to Studdiford’s more manic Sonia.

Costume Designer Kent Streed cements the image that Vanya and Sonia have given up on life with their dowdy, plain mismatched clothes. Studdiford’s frumpy Sonia is desperate, bemoaning her adopted status.  Studdiford easily slingshots from woeful plain Jane to zany partygoer, drawing gasps and laughs from the crowd. .

Christina Eskridge, most recently seen in “Tintypes,” electrifies the stage as the soothsayer housekeeper Cassandra. Eskridge agitates as she spouts impending doom to the stoic Vanya and gloomy Sonia about their famous sister Masha, the owner of their house.

Spike (Dylan Duffy) is Masha's young lover
Cassandra’s predictions come true as the vibrant Masha, played by Laura-Jean Schwartau-Swanson, sweeps in as the self-absorbed, unlucky in love actress. Veteran Pendragon actor Swanson breathes life into this insecure character with five failed marriages under her belt who is desperate to flaunt her May-December romance with her latest fling, an out of work actor named Spike. Swanson’s Masha freezes any perceived competition with a glance and slowly gains more depth until finally deserving our sympathy as the breadwinner for her two siblings.     

Dylan Duffy plays Spike with such abandonment that it is easy to believe that he is as dim-witted as the character he plays. At one point the audience starts to clap for Spike’s reverse striptease and a few ladies to my left are whispering that they hadn’t realized that the play came with a “Magic Mike” bonus.

Masha tries to control her world by means of a themed group costume for the neighbor’s party, casting herself as Disney’s Snow White and her family as dwarfs. Masha becomes unrailed when Sonia decides to attend the party as the Evil Queen, but only as portrayed by Dame Maggie Smith accepting her Oscar.
Masha imagines that Spike is interested in the young neighbor, Nina, brilliantly played with wide-eyed innocence by Laura Menzie. But as an aspiring actress Nina is only awestruck by Masha.  Nina encourages Vanya to pursue his own dream as a writer so she willingly performs his play for his siblings.  

Leifheit’s Vanya is wonderful to watch as he unfolds from the passive straight man for Act I to a pouncing tiger when Spike rudely answers his phone during Nina’s performance. His rant touches on all that is wrong with modern society from losing touch to the need for instant access. Mixed into this neurotic family stew are more zany predictions from Eskridge’s voodoo practicing Cassandra, knucklehead moments from Spike and fresh-faced enthusiasm from Menzie’s Nina. All the while, the siblings endure all that is crazy, funny and endearing about being part of a family.  

Masha dresses as Disney's Snow White
There is a bit of language so the play is not recommended for the very young. Older teens, high school students and of course all adults will love this comedy that pulls and twists at family ties. 

A prior knowledge of Anton Chekhov’s work is not a prerequisite to understanding or thoroughly enjoying the play. If you are a Chekhov aficionado, come for the laughs and all the various nods to “The Cherry Orchard, “The Seagull,” “Uncle Vanya” and “Three Sisters.”

Cast/Crew:
Director: Shawna Mefferd Kelty
Vanya: Christopher Leifheit
Sonia: Allison Studdiford
Cassandra: Christina Eskridge
Masha: Laura-Jean Schwartau-Swanson
Spike: Dylan Duffy
Nina: Laura Menzie
Set Design: Tijana Bjelajac
Costume Design: Kent Streed
Light Design: Bonnie B. Brewer
Technical Director: Sabra Wilson
Stage Manager: Catherine Bloom

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Pendragon Theatre
Transition music between scenes: Out of Nowhere - Django Reinhardt 
Vanya's Play: Mannheim Steamroller's Creatures of Levania
Nina's mp3 player music: The Beatles' Here Comes the Sun

Preshow:
Goodbye Sadness - Astrud Gilberto 
Younger - Seinabo Sey 
Ou Est Ma Tete? - Pink Martini
Second Star to the Right - Doris Day 
Feelin' Good - Nina Simone 
You Know What it Is (featuring Wyclef)- TI 
Black and White  - Django Reinhardt 
The Coffee Song - Frank SinatraIntermission
The Dwarfs' Yodel Song - The Silly Song from Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs 
Dorothy Parker - Marilyn Harris 
Miniskirt - Esquivel
California Suite: Black Folks (from the film) - Claude Bollins
Manhattan (Cha-cha) - Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra 

Curtain call/Post show
Here Comes the Sun - The Beatles
Garden Party - Ricky Nelson

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life - Instrumental Champions© Diane Chase is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities™ guidebook series, Adirondack Family Time™guidebooks have easy Adirondack family hikes, Adirondack swimming holes, Lake Placid Olympic activities, Adirondack trivia, Adirondack horseback rides, Adirondack snowshoe family trails and more. Look for the Adirondack family guidebook online or bookstores/museums/sporting good stores. Diane is currently working on the next Adirondack Family Activities™ guide.

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