Quannapowitt Players present hilarious ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’

25May17

By MARK SARDELLA

You needn’t be a Chekhov scholar to enjoy Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” currently on stage at Quannapowitt Playhouse in Reading. Durang’s comedy may have been inspired by Chekhov, but it is 180 degrees from the dark, despairing mood that permeates Chekhov’s plays.

In fact, it’s hilarious.

Wakefield native and second generation QP-er Nancy Curran Willis directs and once again her casting is pitch perfect and she brings the best out in every performer.

Siblings Vanya, Sonia and Masha were named after Chekhov characters by their parents, who were professors and theater buffs.

Vanya (played by Kendall Hodder) and his sister Sonia (Barbara Douglass) lead lives of quiet (but frequently amusing) desperation in the family home in the Pennsylvania countryside. Now middle-aged, they spent most of their adult lives caring for their aging parents and hence feel that life has passed them by. They harbor resentment toward their sister, Masha (Dayle Ballentine), who left home for a lucrative acting career on the stage and in B movies.

One day, Masha comes home for a visit, making a grand entrance as befits her inflated self-image. She says that she’s in town to a attend a costume party and invites Vanya and Sonia to come along with her and her latest boy toy, Spike (Tim McShea), a much younger aspiring actor with a penchant for stripping down to his undies.

Vanya, who is gay, wonders if Spike is doing this for his benefit. But Masha feels threatened when Spike attracts the attention of a young neighbor girl, Nina (Ashley Skeffinton).

Meanwhile the housekeeper, Cassandra (Margaret McCarty) reads “Voodoo for Dummies” and spouts dire predictions that have a strange way of coming true.

Kendall Hodder has long been one of Nancy Curran Willis favorite actors to cast in her productions, and for good reason. He is perfect in the role of the frustrated writer and delivers Vanya’s hilarious rant about the old days with a manic passion. “I’m worried about the future and I miss the past,” he laments.

Barbara Douglass is also delivers a standout performance as Sonia. She also gets to utter some of the play’s funniest lines, like, “If everyone took antidepressants, Chekov would have had nothing to write about.”

Or this exchange where Masha is pompously explaining that she’s simply much too busy with her career to stay in close contact with her siblings.

MASHA: Life happens, no?
SONIA: Not here, it doesn’t.

Bottom line, this is a golden opportunity to see a professional caliber production of a very funny play at very reasonable price. And you’ll be supporting local community theater and the arts at the same time.

That’s what I call a win-win.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike will be presented at Quannapowitt Playhouse, 55 Hopkins Street, Reading, MA on May 26, June 2 and June 3. Performances are at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 or $18 for Seniors/Students and can be purchased on-line. For reservations call the QP Box Office at 781-942-2212. Only checks and cash are accepted at performances.

[This review appeared in the May 26, 2017 Wakefield Daily Item.]

Photos by Jonathan Sachs.

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