Living in a Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike World

I love Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.

There. I said it. I’m hardly a radical for saying so, considering it is one of the few post-millenium comedies to…you know, actually be quality.

After jettisoning off the Broadway, like all good plays, it has been making the rounds out on the regional circuit. Well, it seems Vanya and his company have come full circle because there is a production of it 15 minutes from my Long Island pad. No, really... (BRB, buying tickets to like every show after work).

Papermill Playhouse is also mounting a production of V&S&M&S, which opened this past sunday night. And it is such a fun, bonkers watch not far off from the original Lincoln Center production and the subsequent Broadway run. Christopher Durang is a comic genius and really NAILED the combination of a sweet story of three siblings reuniting (plus a hot new boy toy, a psychic housekeeper and a visiting angel named Nina) and over-the-top hijinx.

Everytime Cassandra is spewing her premonitions, you want to process the absurdity, but you can’t because you want to catch every last bit of dialogue she spits out with the velocity of a fireball. Everytime Spike is playful and cavorting about (and yes, shedding his clothing), you want to sit back, enjoy the fan service and wonder how the hell does this parody of a parody of a studly, actor-ey type work in this universe. When Sonia is acting the fuck out of the phone-call scene - probably the funniest, saddest and ultimately heartwarming thing Durang has ever written - you want to lean into the stage and correct her after she initially turns down a romantic prospect. 

Above all, you just want to laugh. And laugh you will as the cray cray unfolds.

What was so smart about this production is that is balances on that proverbial line between "too much" and "not enough." I’m no director (and it has been a while since I last acted), but the temptation to go bigger and louder has to be a topic of discussion in the rehearsal process of this show. Instead, director Don Stephenson was not afraid to rein in the histrionics and keep the characters in-check, allowing the quiet and subtle moments to register just as often as the outrageous ones. And with the awesome original cast still in memory, this ensemble - Mark Nelson, Michele Pawk, Carolyn McCormick, Philippe Bowgen, Gina Daniels and Jamie Ann Romero - made their respective characters their own, yet still work like gangbusters. Pawk, in particular, had the difficult act of following Kristine Nielsen’s flawless Sonia (not to mention, a role that Durang wrote specifically for her, tailored to her strengths). But when Pawk starts with the DEAD-ON Maggie Smith impersonation, you won’t miss the lovely Kristine so much. And that is saying a lot really.

Also, Philippe Bowgen, who played Spike, needs to report to my bedroom. Because reasons involving licking chocolate off of his abs.

After a few weeks of hating theatre because theatre hates women, it was nice to tip-toe back into the fold and to have one of my favorite plays greet me on arrival. The weather is getting blizzard-y and freezing, but Papermill Playhouse’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is worth braving the elements for.

Photo Credit: Jerry Dalia

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