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Drew Moore, Teri Loretto-Valentik, Chris Ralp, Mary Ellis, Sarah Finn, Bev Wolfe. Photo by David Whiteley.

Review: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike + ticket giveaway

By Barbara Popel on May 25, 2016

Apt613 is giving away two tickets to see Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at The Gladstone Theatre. The show runs until June 5 and the winner can attend a performance of their choice subject to availability. To enter, send and email with the subject header “Vanya” to apartment613@gmail.com. A winner will be selected by random on Thursday May 26.

What? Is this Chekhov? No, though four of the characters have Chekhovian names (three were named by their theatre-loving parents), and there’s more than a touch of Chekhov’s theme of wasted lives. There’s even reference to a petite cherry orchard near their rundown country house. But you don’t need to be familiar with the Russian master’s works to appreciate Christopher Durang’s award-winning comedy.

1st row: Bev Wolfe, Chris Ralph, and Mary Ellis. 2nd row: Teri Loretto-Valentik, Drew Moore, and Sarah Finn. Photo by David Whiteley.

1st row: Bev Wolfe, Chris Ralph, and Mary Ellis. 2nd row: Teri Loretto-Valentik, Drew Moore, and Sarah Finn. Photo by David Whiteley.

Middle-aged siblings Vanya (Chris Ralph) and Sonia (Mary Ellis) live empty lives of bickering and boredom in the family house in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. They’ve lived there most of their lives, including a long stretch caring for their parents prior to their deaths from Alzheimer’s. They are supported by money from their sister, Masha (Teri Loretto-Valentik). She’s an insecure movie and theatre star who is somewhat past her prime. Masha arrives for the weekend with her air-head boy toy Spike (Drew Moore) in tow. Spike’s favourite thing (besides himself) is taking off most of his clothes and flaunting his buff bod. Masha announces that they’re all going to a neighbour’s costume party as characters from Disney’s Snow White (she’s Snow, of course), and that (shades of Chekhov!) she’s decided to sell the family’s home.

The remaining Chekhovian character is Nina (Sarah Finn). She’s a sweet and earnest young neighbour who worships Masha and who befriends Vanya (“You’re so nice! Can I call you Uncle? Uncle Vanya?”).

Seemingly dropped in from a Greek tragedy, the family’s cleaning lady Cassandra (a very funny Bev Wolfe) is given to trances and dire prophecies, much like her namesake from the Trojan War.

Though Durang’s script is not the best – there’s stiff exposition of the backstory in the first scene and the play drags a bit in its first half – the acting is uniformly excellent. Chris Ralph’s lengthy diatribe against the modern world is great fun, especially if you remember some of the things he’s nostalgic for. The play’s also a rare opportunity to see two of Ottawa’s finest actresses – Mary Ellis and Bev Wolfe – strut their stuff. Ellis is wonderful as the depressive self-hating Sonia (“I have two pleasant moments every day, and one of them’s bringing you coffee.”, “I’m more like furniture in the room.” and “If everyone took antidepressants, Chekhov would have nothing to write about.”). Late in the play, when a gentleman she met at the costume party phones to ask her out to dinner, her mingled excitement and disbelief are a joy to behold. Under David Whiteley’s direction, Bev Wolfe takes the absurd lines Durang has given Cassandra to the max – she’s a pint-sized tornado who is as crazy-smart as her Trojan namesake.

VSMS - Teri Loretto-Valentik, Drew Moore, Sarah Finn - photo by David Whiteley

Durang gifts each actor with some laugh-inducing lines. For example, after the costume party, Teri Loretto Valentik’s Masha gets to wail, “No one recognized my Walt Disney costume! Several thought I was a Hummel figurine!”. And spinster Sonia tells her gentleman caller, “I’m not a widow – I’ve been picky.”

The production is not without its flaws which I hope can be rectified during the rest of the run. The lighting and sound cues between the scenes are often confusing; it’s not always clear if they indicate the beginning of the intermission, the end of the play, or just a transition to the next scene. The backdrop – a large window overlooking fields and a pond – isn’t darkened sufficiently during the scenes at night. And during part of Vanya’s rant, Whiteley directs Chris Ralph to face the audience with his back to the rest of the cast, thereby drawing attention to the fact this is a performance. But these are minor flaws.

All in all, first-rate acting in a very pleasant theatrical diversion.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is at The Gladstone Theatre until June 5, 2016. The performance starts at 7:30 pm, and is 155 minutes long with one intermission. Information and tickets at The Gladstone’s website.

Ticket giveaway details