Saturday, June 14, 2014

GableStage: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (reviews)

gablestage vanya_adGableStage opened its production of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike on May 17, 2014.

This riotous comedy depicts a family gathering for an impromptu reunion. Set in present day, the play takes characters and themes from Chekhov's plays, pours them into a blender and mixes them up. By the end of their unforgettable weekend, this family won't ever be the same!

Joe Adler directed a cast that included Avi Hoffman, Laura Turnbull, Margarita Coego, Jade Wheeler, Domenic Servidio and Hayley Bruce.


Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:

Under the vanities and inanities, the witty literary allusions and the silly sight gags, Durang gently pokes fun at people who have wasted their lives because they fear change, challenges or just life itself. But don’t fret, mostly director Joseph Adler and his cast deliver a good old-fashioned, absurdist character comedy.

Adler, who is better known for his dramas than his comedy, lets loose with a far more rollicking and kinetic staging than his regular patrons will expect. The Broadway version with its dream cast including David Hyde Pierce and Sigourney Weaver was a bit more poignant (although equally hilarious) and the humor a few millimeters less broad. But Adler’s version is satisfying with his cast of clowns...

Hoffman knows a good thing when he gets it and he makes the absolute most of this opportunity to meld his well-honed comic chops and his dramatic skills into an inseparable whole…

Coego creates a Masha who doesn’t just suck the air out of every room she enters, she invokes divine right to appropriate the spotlight, the sunlight, and any furniture not nailed down. Yet Coego hints that the fame, the money, the consort, none of it is enough to fill the hole in Masha’s being. Coego creates a hilarious monster of self-centeredness…

While (her)role is the least showy, Turnbull employs deft timing and innate likeability to get the audiences rooting for her as Sonia begins to show some buds if not actual blossoms.

Wheeler …could easily be convicted of first-degree scene stealing.

Another one likely to be indicted for theatrical larceny is Servido... Do not let the well-chiseled body distract you, if you can, from the masterful comedy performance this guy is giving as the completely clueless preening airhead. It takes a lot of skill to play this dumb…

Bruce, a recent New World grad, is delightful as the tall, willowy ingénue…

Lyle Baskin’s set is a superb evocation of a comfortable two-story hermitage occupied by unassuming people of means… it is a dead perfect environment expertly executed with props by Beth Fath and lighting by Steve Welsh. Ellis Tillman’s costumes mirror the characters’ personalities, especially the outfits for Spike.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:

Vanya and Sonia is a gentler and more scattershot play, that Tony notwithstanding. Durang hits and misses, and though director Joseph Adler has cast his production (mostly) well, the show’s six game actors can do only so much to gloss over the script’s weaker bits.

Stylistically, the performances are quite varied. Turnbull and Hoffman, spouses in real life, give Vanya and Sonia its empathy-evoking heart, and in terms of acting, they’re the production’s great strength. Turnbull’s Sonia looks somehow glamorous yet a little sad in a party getup (the terrific costumes are by Ellis Tillman), and her phone conversation with a would-be suitor is truly touching. Hoffman gets a magnificent monologue about life in the 1950s, and he makes it the tour de force that Durang intended.

Bruce, a recent New World School of the Arts grad, is also more realistic and sympathetic with her innocent, enthusiastic Nina... Playing a surprisingly calculating male bimbo,the often hilarious Servidio makes it tough to look anywhere else when he’s onstage, and not just because he’s sometimes wearing nothing except black Calvin Klein briefs.

Wheeler and Coego play exaggerated characters, and at times they seem to be in a different, more overtly farcical play. Wheeler is witheringly amusing when Cassandra is putting her privileged employers in their places, but the way she physically embodies the character’s prophetic messages is just odd. The attractive Coego gets Masha’s relentless narcissism just right, but her exaggerated acting style and sometimes grating voice (though Coego has no accent, think Sofia Vergara when she’s bellowing) make Masha more of a cartoon villain than Durang intends.

Roger Martin reviewed for Miami ArtZine:

Playwright Christopher Durang can cure the damned. If you think I’m telling pork pies, go see Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at GableStage... It’s two hours of Durang’s witty writing, with a cast that lovingly (and that also means they’re very funny) delivering a stream of Chekhovian references.

Hoffman and Turnbull are wonderfully comical as the quietly desperate Vanya and Sonia and the changes they make after Masha invites them to a fancy dress party are a joy. Turnbull’s monologue as Maggie Smith attending the Oscars is brilliant and Hoffman, raging through a four and a half page monologue, earns scene-ending applause.

Pay attention to the name Domenic Servidio, a young man who captures the house with every moment he has on stage. His physicality and imagination seem endless.

Joseph Adler directed this 2013 Tony Award winner and doesn’t miss a beat. It’s an evening of hilarity, chuckles to roars..

John Thomason reviewed for The Miami New Times:

Of the six plays in GableStage's 2013-14 season, Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike was its most anticipated production for hard-core theatergoers’’’ It's a play in which nothing happens for the longest time, yet in the hands of a flawless cast and Joseph Adler's extraordinary direction, it's perfection.

It's important to note that while the awareness that we're watching a play, along with its concomitant sense of artificiality, is central to Vanya and Sonia, the characters don't seem to know they're stuck in a theatrical fiction, which makes their adventures all the more tragicomic. To Adler's credit, his direction is never exaggerated or campy; we understand we're being winked at without the characters actually doing the winking.

…at two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission, Vanya and Sonia is one of GableStage's longest productions in some time, yet it feels like the quickest — so beautifully paced is Adler's direction and so assured is his cast's cohesion.

The set design is one of Lyle Baskin's best in recent memory — a staggering, earthen, three-dimensional, two-story construction that seems to dwarf the space around it, supplemented by lovely lighting from Steve Welsh that casts the shadows of unseen foliage on the edifice's sunlit stone façade.

Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper:

Director Joe Adler rarely dabbles in such overtly comic material, but he shows here that he can handle its tricky tones. Lyle Baskin heads the design crew with a house set of substance and character, while Ellis Tillman’s costumes are on target and whimsical. Durang’s Tony Award was earned in part by the terrific Broadway cast of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, but GableStage proves that the play works just fine with a company of mere mortals.

The GableStage  production of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike plays through June 15, 2014.

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