One doesn’t have to go all the way to Russia to feel the influence of legendary playwright Anton Chekhov. The gang at Korda Artistic Productions embody the essence of the 19th Century writer with their local production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a modern play dripping with oodles of comedic references to the Russian, who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history. The play opened on March 31 and continues into this weekend at the Kordazone Theatre.
Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a fairly new play, having first been staged in 2012 and brought to life on Broadway the following year. Some of the show’s elements were derived from actual works of Chekhov, including several character names, the play’s setting in a cherry orchard, and the theme of the possible loss of an ancestral home. But that makes the entire production even funnier and I’d wager that Chekhov would have loved the humour.
Korda picked a good one here. The story is outrageous, totally asinine and more fun than sitting on the couch watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory. The cast worked hard for more than two hours of grueling emotional turns and physical comedy, including Dylan MacDonald who probably spent more of the show wearing nothing more than a bright pair of red boxer briefs to show off his muscular body.
Adult siblings Vanya and Sonia reside in their old family home, mourning their lost dreams and missed opportunities. When their often-wrong, fortune-telling maid warns of impending dangers ahead, and their movie star sister, Masha, arrives unexpectedly with young, sexy, boy toy, Spike, the family is launched into a rollicking weekend of one-up-manship, exposed nerves, and a lot of outrageous comedy.
John Shellhorn was perfect as the gay and often grumpy Vanya, who spent quite a bit of time dealing with his sexuality around the often-undressed MacDonald, who was hilarious as Spike, the dimwit boyfriend. When he first undressed, the audience was a bit reserved, but by the end of the show, MacDonald received cheers, claps and even muted whistles.
Sonia, played by Niki Richardson, was a bit overpowering against the meeker Vanya in the beginning of the play, but stole everyone’s heart by the time she came out in the second half wearing a gorgeous sequin gown. Also, charming throughout her entire appearance was Talia Ryckman-Klein, who was simply adorable as the neighbour Nina, who first discovered Spike swimming in the backyard pond. Somehow Nina ended up getting entangled in the weird family drama and became as much of the story as the family itself.
The show peaks when we see the cast dressed in Snow White themed costumes for ball Masha got the family invited to. Everyone but Sonia kept with the Snow White theme and much humour endures.
The two breakout stars of the show were Allison Still, who gave a rousing performance as Masha, and Vanessa Plourde, who was simply incredible as Cassandra.
Still showed similarities to Second City superstar Catherine O’Hara at times and somehow managed to remain glamourous even as the audience laughed at her foibles with the family. In one scene, we see Still letting the character loosen the celebrity ego as she remembers wanting to land the starring role in the Chekhov production Three Sisters. It was an emotional moment that changed the entire direction of her character from that point on.
Plourde simply rocked as Cassandra. Always over-the-top and fun to watch, she often used giant arm movements while waving her body around as she foretold upcoming events. She even had a cute scene involving a needle and voodoo doll. Even through a couple prop malfunctions involving wands and telephones, Plourde continued her scenes as if the outrageousness of the breakdown was all part of the show. She was the first to get a round of applause during the show and her performance was being spoken about as we left the theatre.
David Burrows took on a big job directing such an unusual and eccentric play, but it came off entertaining, memorable and certainly worthy of the praise.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike continues until April 15 at the Kordazone Theatre. Tickets are $15 (general), $12 (seniors) and $10 (students). More information is available at kordazone.com.