Three sibling circus

When family reunion upsets the applecart

Denee Lewis performs in snow white costume in SVCT's show 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ SELFISHLY INSECURE Denee Lewis performs in South Valley Civiv Theater’s production of ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’, which runs through May 13, 2017.

A charming production of Christopher Durang’s 2013 Tony Award-winning family comedy, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike brings together three siblings and the younger lover of one at South Valley Civic Theatre for a production billed as “three siblings. One hot mess.”

Luckily the show itself is not a hot mess, although the situation certainly is. Vanya and Sonia and Masha are the middle-aged children of a Chekhov-loving family who reunite for a weekend at the family farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Vanya and his adopted sister Sonia  live comfortably enough with each other after years of caring for their dementia-impaired (and now deceased) parents; they squabble amiably with each other over unimportant things like making the coffee.  

The third sibling, Masha, is a successful actress who’s been underwriting the household costs while she gallivants around the world. When she shows up with her boy toy Spike for a neighbor’s costume party, she casually drops into the conversation that she plans to sell the house, upsetting the applecart of family peacefulness.

As is usual for such reunions, old resentments and rivalries quickly rear their ugly heads, but the true pleasure of Vanya etc. Is the quirky way in which playwright Durang works in so many Chekhov references. Familiarity with Chekhov’s plays isn’t necessary to appreciating either the plot or the humor—just know that there are many silly/funny references made all the more charming minus the heaviness of Chekhov’s family dramas.

Under the direction of Myra Kaelin, the cast turns in some winning performances, although too often the characters direct their lines to the fourth wall of the audience rather than to one another in a more naturalistic way.  

As the repressed gay Vanya, Scott Lynch is relaxed and avuncular until pushed too far by the preening, prancing Tyler Savin as Spike, who is sweetly self-involved and appears to love nothing more than taking his clothes off in front of others. Lynch’s rant about the good old days of the 1950s brings the show to a fever pitch. Like his siblings, there’s more than a little “is that all there is?” regret to his midlife musings.

Adrianne Wilkinson’s Sonia comes off early as a bit of a petulant drama queen, but her transformation for the costume party into British acting goddess Maggie Smith brings out a surprising new side to her personality.

Denee Lewis sweeps onto the stage as the movie star Masha, although it quickly becomes apparent that she shares the same insecurities and fears as her siblings. Her costume-party choice of Snow White, meant to be surrounded by her sibs and others as the Dwarves, reveals her belief about the centrality of her place in the universe.

Practically stealing the show as the housekeeper/soothsayer Cassandra (another nod to the classics), Roberta Vinkhuyzen issues warnings of dire events, including the mysterious “Beware the Hootie Pie!” She gets the best costumes from designer Elizabeth Calisi, all harem pants and gypsy headwraps, to go with her voodoo shakers and dolls to stick with pins.

Krista Warner is sweet as a star-struck young neighbor, Nina (another Chekhov reference).

The action plays out on an authentic-looking set of the patio behind the family farmhouse, designed by Lynch.

Performances through May 13 at the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse, 17090 Monterey Road, Morgan Hill. Tickets $25, $20 seniors, $16 students. SVCT.org, 408.842.7469.

Susan Rife

Susan Rife

Lover of arts & books; ukulele learner; therapeutic knitter; long-distance runner. Former Arts and Books Editor at Herald-Tribune.
Susan Rife

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About Susan Rife
Lover of arts & books; ukulele learner; therapeutic knitter; long-distance runner. Former Arts and Books Editor at Herald-Tribune.