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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

If everyone took anti-depressants, Chekhov would have had nothing to write about. —Sonia,
Vanya and. . .
Mark Nelson as Vanya (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
The number of productions of Christopher Durang's Tony Award-winning play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike being staged at regional theaters across the country has been phenomenal. I was certainly dead wrong at the time of its birth (world premiere) at Princeton's McCarter Theater in 2012 in reporting that this serio-farcical send-up of characters and situations that alluded to the great plays by the great Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov is not likely to have great appeal.

To my utter amazement Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike found its way from the McCarter to the small Mitzi Newhouse Theatre in Lincoln Center (designated as an Off-Broadway theater) where its success there more than justified a further move to the John Golden Theatre on Broadway and where it earned numerous awards, including that of Best Play of the 2013 season.

Now the play has once again come under my reviewing radar at the Paper Mill Playhouse. It's interesting to see new productions bring subtle differences to the staging as is the case now.

Director Don Stephenson's direction and his cast make yet another viewing fairly pleasurable. There's plenty to applaud: the poignancy that stays prominently on the surface of Michele Pawk's bi-polar Sonia. . . the pathetic outbursts of Mark Nelson's unfulfilled playwright step-brother Vanya. . . the effusively melodramatic posturing of Carolyn McCormick's glamorous sister/actress Masha. . .the incorrigibly narcissistic posing of boy-toy Philippe Bowgen's Spike. . . the incredulous ranting of Gina Daniels' house-cleaning Cassandra . . . the demure yet dim loveliness of Jamie Ann Romero's girl-next-door/aspiring actress Nina. K

Keeping within the established parameter, Stephenson smartly gives the tremendously gifted Obie Award-winner Nelson the latitude to make Vanya's lengthy diatribe on how he "misses the past" a genuine heart-breaker. His production is also beautifully enhanced, as it has been since its McCarter premiere, with the stunning setting designed by David Korins and designer Leon Dobkowski's new array of whimsical costumes are an added visual treat.

I have great admiration for the scarily hilarious, joyously perverse socio-political rants that ignite so many of Durang's plays such as Miss Witherspoon , Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them , as well such early gems as The Marriage of Bette and Boo and Beyond Therapy (to cite a few). If I savor most the memory of his most gloriously deranged farce Betty's Summer Vacation , it is Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike that is also likely to linger on longer than I am willing to concede at this time.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike By Christopher Durang Directed by Don Stephenson

Cast: Mark Nelson (Vanya), Michele Pawk (Sonia), Gina Daniels (Cassandra), Carolyn McCormick (Masha), Philippe Bowgen (Spike), Jamie Ann Romero (Nina).
Scenic Design: David Korins
Costume Design: Leon Dobkowski
Lighting Design (Stephen Terry
Original Music & Sound Design: Mark Bennett
Production Stage Manager: Gary Mickelson
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including intermission
Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ
973 - 315 - 1680 or
Tickets: $28.00 - $99.00
Performances: Wednesday at 7:30 pm Thursday at 1:30 and 7:30 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 1:30 and 8 pm, and Sunday at 1:30 and 7 pm.
From 01/21 Opened 01/25/15 Ends 02/15/15
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 01/25/15
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