When art imitates life imitating art, the results can be hilarious, moving and, in the case with PacRep’s production of the Christopher Durang’s award-winning Broadway hit Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, brilliantly, exuberantly theatrical. Named after characters from the plays of Anton Chekhov by academic, theatre-loving parents, Vanya (Michael D. Jacobs) and Sonia (Julie Hughett) lead bleak, comfortable lives of purposeless ennui in a country house by a pond where the most satisfying part of the day can be the sighting of a blue heron out near where ten or eleven cherry trees might be construed of as an orchard. Trouble brews when the third sibling Masha (Dena Martinez), a world-renowned actress of the stage and film, shows up with a young muscular boy toy named Spike (Rob August) in tow. Toss in a visiting neighbor girl named Nina (Katie Rose Krueger) to confirm the Chekhovian references and titillate the cognoscenti and you have a nice set up for peerless parody.
An audience member need know nothing about Chekhov to a have rollicking good time with this show. The action is clear and the characterizations by a superb cast under the always-insightful direction of Kenneth Kelleher could hardly be more touching or comic. Julie Hughett sets the tone and style of the performance with the heightened expression of her first words investing an amusingly overwrought passion into the proceedings, all over the siblings’ morning cup of coffee. Michael Jacobs is her perfect foil, responding with an understated reasonableness. They are a Chekhovian yin and yang, a perfect match. In the second act, the playwright gives them the chance to burn brightly incandescent and they seize their moments and deliver stunning soliloquys that reveal unsuspected passion.
As the glamorous Masha, Dena Martinez matches her cast mates with a self-absorbed character of astounding ego who dominates the stage as a puffed up colossus used to having her own way in everything. Her Masha is a complex stew of emotion, desire and neediness that is repellent, until it isn’t. Rob August as Spike, handsome of face and chiseled of body, is his own brand of egocentricity, sucking up to the older star and basking in her glamor and the opportunity she represents.
Katie Rose Krueger makes a delightful, squeaky-voiced ingénue as Nina, a star struck kid out of her league and Cindy Womack as the droll house-cleaner-cum-soothsayer named Cassandra aptly delivers uncanny forecasts of the mysterious future with a flutter of her eyelids and deepening of tone.
The show is handsomely mounted with set by Patrick McEvoy, lights by Joanna Hobbs and costumes by Ziona Goren.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs through May 31 at the Circle Theatre in Carmel.