Make us your home page
Instagram

Review: Jobsite's 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike' make for maddening but brilliant company

Photo by Crawford Long. (From left) Roz Potenza plays Sonia, Elizabeth Fendrick plays Masha, Brian Shea plays Vanya and Jamie Jones plays Spike in Jobsite Theater’s production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.

Photo by Crawford Long. (From left) Roz Potenza plays Sonia, Elizabeth Fendrick plays Masha, Brian Shea plays Vanya and Jamie Jones plays Spike in Jobsite Theater’s production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.

TAMPA — Two siblings with Russian names spend their days gazing into the woods behind their late parents' house, where a few cherry trees remind them of happier times. A third sibling with aristocratic airs pays a visit home and announces she plans to sell the property.

An ingenue down the street catches the interest of the wealthier sister's boyfriend, part of a love tetrahedron between that sister and her gay brother. It's all supposed to sound vaguely familiar, yet also mashed up and satirized and rendered absurd. This is what happens when Christopher Durang gets a hold of any story, as the playwright has now tackled Anton Chekhov in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Jobsite Theater opened Durang's farcical take on some of the Russian playwrights's most famous work, particularly The Cherry Orchard and The Seagull, last weekend at the Shimberg Theater in the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Though the play, directed by Paul Potenza, contains some inside jokes, there are no prerequisites to understanding it. This is a send-up that pokes a little fun at Chekhov's tragedy while also showing deference to him. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike might even do more justice to the farcical spirit of The Cherry Orchard than did Constantin Stanislavski, who in 1904 directed Chekhov's last play as a tragedy.

This Durang play is full of contradictions the playwright seems to have intended, inflicting a level of discomfort you get the feeling he enjoys. It won a 2013 Tony Award for best play, but for long stretches of time begs to be underestimated. All the characters make easy targets for mockery, so when they make fools of themselves you almost feel sorry for them and wonder who would laugh. (That would be the audience, who appeared to enjoy the play thoroughly from beginning to end.)

Vanya and his adopted sister, Sonia, once took care of their dying parents but now merely live on the estate and ruminate over their misery. Masha, an actor who once found a niche somewhere between B-movies and soft porn, returns to attend a costume party. She has a much younger boyfriend in tow, the handsome but vapid Spike (Jamie Jones), whose claim to fame is having almost gotten a part in an Entourage sequel. Oh, and he likes to take off his clothes.

Nina, the aspiring actor down the street (Emily Belvo), worships Masha, who is not thrilled to have competition for Spike. Masha and Spike go to the party as Snow White and Prince Charming. She tries to get everyone else to attend as dwarves, but the erstwhile wallflower Sonia upstages her with a thrown-together costume as the evil queen.

Spike gambols about the set or goes for a jog in his underwear. Sonia and Masha enjoy a sustained and substantial conversation at the start of the second act, then end it with I Love Lucy style bawling. This is Durang's world. It's not easy to navigate, and much credit goes to Roz Potenza as Sonia and Elizabeth Fendrick as Masha for playing such over-the-top characters in ways that are not over the top. A soothsaying cleaning woman (Jonelle Meyer), appropriately named Cassandra after Greek mythology, goes in the opposite direction, relating quavering prophesies every so often with as little restraint as possible.

All of which raises the question about a play written by an architect's son and Ivy League graduate: Is this blue-blood humor, tearing down what is left of already battered egos, pretensions so absurd anyone could poke holes in them? Would a deeper knowledge of Chekhov make it more bearable?

Then toward the end, the trajectory of the show and its apparent shallowness does a 180. Vanya becomes enraged while reading his strange script about life after climate change because Spike is texting during the performance. Brian Shea as Vanya delivers an impassioned and brilliant 14-minute monologue lamenting the passage of older ways — of Hayley Mills giving way to Lindsay Lohan and Howdy Doody to South Park, a time when a nation grieved the mercy killing of Old Yeller. It's an amazing piece of theater, in a play which up until then I thought I hated.

Durang might be your cup of tea and he might not be. But whatever you think of him, he can't be underestimated. This show can be tough going, whether deliberately so or not is hard to say. But if you stick it out for nearly two and a half hours (including an intermission) you'll hear some good stuff.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

. If you go

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

The show runs through March 26 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $28. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.

Review: Jobsite's 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike' make for maddening but brilliant company 02/29/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 12:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Fast Times at Ridgemont High turns 35: Learn it. Know it. Live it

    Blogs

    Fast Times at Ridgemont High not only is the perfect time capsule of pop culture in the early ‘80s - all it needed was some tasty waves and cool buds = it’s also high art. How so? Leave it to me. I'm the full hot orator today. Did you know the cast actually featured three future Academy Award …

  2. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 23: Of tiny towns, wonderful naps and dreamlike ice cream bars

    Travel

    Day 23: Murias de Rechivaldo to Foncebadon: 20.8 km, 6 hours. Total for Days 1-23 = 541 km (336 miles)

  3. Forgotten '80s classic: The Kinks' 'The Road'

    Blogs

    While the '70s has classic songs about rock 'n' roll on the road like Jackson Browne's The Load-Out and Bob Seger's Turn The Page, the '80s also lamented about the long tours including songs that might have escaped your attention like the Kinks and their travel song simply titled The Road.

  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for July 28

    Events

    Lady Antebellum: The Grammy-winning trio take the stage with openers Kelsea Ballerini and Brett Young. 7 p.m., MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. $26.75-$60.

    LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 02:  (L-R) Recording artists Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood of Lady Antebellum perform during the 52nd Academy of Country Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on April 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
  5. Opera legend Sherrill Milnes keeps a quieter profile in Palm Harbor

    Features

    TARPON SPRINGS — The soprano sang an aria from The Marriage of Figaro about lost love, but she could have been asking the devil not to steal her soul. A couple dozen opera fans watched, including a silver-haired man with leonine features leaning back in his chair.

    American operatic baritone Sherrill Milnes, right, critiques a performance by Mariana Carnovali, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, during the Opera Voice competition on Monday  at the Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times