by Lynn Marie Macy · February 3, 2015
The play centers on a group of Siblings who, having reached middle age, are reevaluating their life choices. Vanya (played by Mark Nelson) and Sonia (played by Michelle Pawk) live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in the home where they were raised. They have spent their prime years caring for their aged parents (Academics who had the prescience of mind to name their children after characters from Chekov plays.) Like their Chekov namesakes Vanya and Sonia feel they have never had the chance to really live. Their sister Masha (played by Carolyn McCormick), however, has not only seen the world but has garnered fame and fortune as a movie star in the “Sexy Killer” Film Franchise. Masha suddenly turns up with her much younger exhibitionist boyfriend Spike (a comedic self-obsessed Philippe Bowgen) at the family homestead and threatens to turn Vanya and Sonia’s lives upside down by selling their home which, as it turns out, she has paid for - not unlike the actions of Madame Arkadina, the celebrated actress from Chekov’s play The Seagull. Many of Chekov’s themes and references pepper the script delighting audiences with a literary bend. Add to the previously mentioned mix of characters a sooth saying housekeeper named Cassandra (a fun and plucky Gina Daniels) and the young neighbor Nina (an enchanting and earnest Jamie Ann Romero) who dreams of becoming a great actress in proper Chekhovian fashion.
Don Stephenson, who has assembled this superior cast of performers for this production, duly directs Durang’s script. And while the play dragged at the onset, in part due to the author’s clunky expository opening scene, the production, for the most part, found its rhythm as the performance progressed. Some odd choices - like Spike throwing his shoes against the black curtains stage left, also intermittently took me out of the world of the play.
The beautiful set by David Korins provides a perfect backdrop for the unfolding story and lighting by Stephen Terry supports the family’s breathtakingly realistic Bucks County surroundings. The costumes by Leon Dubkowski were beautifully designed melding perfectly into the persona of each character.
Thanks to Durang’s balanced script, each member of the cast has a moment to shine. Highlights include Pawk’s comic precision imitating Maggie Smith supposedly interpreting the glamorous evil Queen from Snow White, McCormick’s angst filled meltdown after her failure to remain the center of attention and Mark Nelson’s star turn in his dénouement monologue decrying modern technology and the march of time. Each seems to be experiencing a humorous mid-life catharsis as opposed to a mid-life crisis allowing them at last to move forward.
I attended a matinee performance and sometimes found myself the only person laughing at the numerous comic references intended to entertain which instead fell a bit flat, sadly affecting the energy and timing of the performers but considering how early in the run I saw the play this polished cast should be able to find their groove and adjust to any audience reaction (or non-reaction as the case may be).
You don’t have to be familiar with the Chekov canon to enjoy this play but those who are will certainly be doubly charmed.