(ABOVE: Mile Square Theatre production of Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike, starring: Chris O’Connor, Annie McAdams, Barbara Pitts, Jonah Robinson, Annette Hammond, and Andrea Bellamore; directed by Mark Cirnigliaro. Photo by Joe Epstein/JoeEpsteinPhotography.com)
by Christopher Halleron
I’m a terrible reader.
There—I said it. I attempt to make my living with the written word, but I don’t read nearly as much as I probably should. Of course I did take English in college, so at the very least I’m familiar with Anton Chekhov—but I wouldn’t say I’m a student of his works.
With that in mind, I had some significant concerns over just how dumb I was going to feel watching Mile Square Theatre‘s adaptation of Christopher Durang‘s Tony Award-winning Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike. Because one never wants to be exposed as a pseudo-intellectual.
Nor did I want to miss out, though. Mile Square Theatre productions are consistently engaging, with each show serving as a reminder of just valuable an asset we have in Hoboken’s professional theatre. I opted to put my faith in Artistic Director Chris O’Connor‘s judgment and went to the play—without so much as googling Chekhov, let alone reading the Cliff’s Notes. That faith was most certainly rewarded.
Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike takes the audience to contemporary Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where a trio of siblings share their parents’ former home. Some spend more time there than others, and like any family, there’s resentment lurking just below the surface. In Durang’s play, directed here by Mark Cirnigliaro, that resentment is anything but subtle—in fact, it comes smashing through minutes into the performance.
O’Connor takes the stage as the curmudgeonly Vanya, while Barbara Pitts portrays the self-doubting Sonia and Annie McAdams is the starlet Masha—so named by their artsy-fartsy parents who actually read a lot of Chekhov. Masha brings home Jonah Robinson as boy-toy Spike—a character who wouldn’t really be described as sharp, but still manages to jab at all the siblings in his own oblivious way.
Are there a lot of Chekhov references? Yes, as it turns out—although I’m only discovering them now, after a cursory glance Chekhov’s Wikipedia page. Did it matter that they didn’t register at the time? No, it didn’t—because one doesn’t need to be a scholar of 19th Century Russian literature to appreciate the spectacle of a dysfunctional family. When the story of that family is so expertly presented by supremely talented actors in an intimate setting like Mile Square Theatre, it’s going to hit its mark.
The production draws empathetic oohs and aahs from the audience. The innocent Nina, delightfully portrayed by Annette Hammond, sparks a reflective rebirth in the characters, offering a rung of self-confidence to help them climb out of their respective ruts. Andrea Bellamore‘s bewitching Cassandra pours accelerant in those ruts for a little scorched earth, forcing the siblings to come terms with harsh realities.
Mile Square Theatre’s Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike is Funny & Poignant & Tender & Uplifting.
Personally, this production left me with a renewed sense of purpose. It served as a timely reminder that I can still find my voice and channel my energy into things that I feel are important, despite the cacophony and banality of modern life.
If nothing else, it made me want to take some time and read a lot more Chekhov. I may even try to binge read a few plays and catch the show again, just to see if it makes that much of a difference…
Mile Square Theatre’s Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike runs through October 7th.
CLICK HERE for ticket information…