Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
The Ensemble Company at Penguin Point Productions
By Christopher Durang
Directed by Kenny Howard
Staring Jac LeDoux, Michael Wanzie, and Melanie Veazey
How bad is the mall business these days? They rent space to theater companies. Penguin Point Productions takes up residence at the still surviving Oviedo Mall, but the last two malls I know of that became theaters didn’t do well, but I hope this one hangs on. This Christopher Durang story moves the classic Chekhovian saga of a family fading away into the modern day. Sonia (LeDoux) was adopted and never married. Vanya (Wanzie) didn’t do much either, and now the pair live out their platonic lives watching the local heron come to the pond. Or not. Heron does have a life. But excitement looms; their sister Masha (Veazey) went to Hollywood and had a career with few positive mentions on the internet. Sure, she COULD do the classics on screen, but soft core paid better. After a hand full of husbands she’s taken up with muscle boy Spike (Buckalew). Spike prefers semi-nudity, and while Masha is convenient, she’s old enough to be his older sister and more of a drama queen than anyone else on stage. When a costume party goes horribly wrong, Masha and Spike split, and Masha threats to sell the house. There’s no Chekhovian gun on this stage, but most of the cast looks like that wanted one.
Nothing succeeds like excess in this comedy of modern manners. The biggest fun comes from over-the-top Masha. She hosts a celebrity-grade break down when her Snow White costume (complete with reluctant elves) fails to smash at the party down the road. Buckalew’s Spike plays an excellent comic foil to her fading reputation. You know instantly he’s a temp in her life, if for no other reason than he’s not the brightest stud muffin competing for minor Hollywood sub-stars. LeDoux gives us a calm voice of reason, and even the unusually subdued Mr. Wanzie as Vanya seems Ambien Calm until he gives us one of the longest rants in stage history.
The set is clever and compact with just enough texture to set us in Bucks County, PA but not to the point of overburdening us with realism It’s funny on multiple levels ranging from the absurdity of Masha’s failed career in cheap movies to Buckalew’s obvious mooching to the amazing prescience of young Nina (Lily E. Garnett) the house keeper and voodoo woman. It as if a Chekov comedy was re-written for modern laughs, and totally fun.
Penguin Point’s space has good sound, decent chairs, and a consume shop to die for. The only oddity is if the show runs past the mall’s bedtime, they hustle you off to the parking lot to greet the cast. There’s a convenient brewery right next door that stays up late, so you can go over and debate the subtext of the show over a fine IPA.