My parents recently moved from Pennsylvania to Portsmouth, giving me the chance to immerse them further in the world of theatre I inhabit than ever before.
My dad generally prefers musicals, but my mom was excited for the chance to attend opening night of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike with me at the Little Theatre of Virginia Beach. She’d been with me to LTVB once before—last fall, seeing Donkey’s Years the day after breaking her arm on the sidewalk outside of my old apartment. We’d intended to go the previous night, but that emergency room visit was unfortunately preventative. This attendance was, thankfully, less eventful.
The story follows three siblings named after Chekov characters. Vanya and Sonia are slipping through their middle age in loneliness and discontent, living in the family’s old home in rural Pennsylvania, occasionally accompanied by their strange but apparently psychic housekeeper, Cassandra. The house is technically owned by their sister, Masha, who sharply contrasts her siblings as a successful actress who is usually traveling internationally and looking for a new husband. Masha decides to visit for the weekend to attend a costume party with her jealously guarded and much younger boyfriend, Spike, in tow. He’s a flirt, especially around the neighbor girl, Nina. Trouble comes knocking when Masha declares her intent to sell the house out from under her brother and sister, pitting the already quibbling siblings more firmly against each other.
Nancy Bloom is absolutely splendid as Sonia. She managed to not only touch on the character’s sadness and dissatisfaction, but to do so without ever weighing her down, burning at the core with hope and humor that made the audience especially sympathetic to her. Her phone monologue, in particular, had the audience rapt—they produced an audible “aww” after the lights went down. Clifford Hoffman does well as Vanya, a pendulum swinging in attempt to balance the forces of his two sisters. Lisa Randazzo Kearns plays a Masha who is exactly as grating as she needs to. I would like to see her develop more levels of emotional dynamics as the show goes on, though—she comes in at a 9 out of 10 on the volume dial and doesn’t have far to ramp up from there.
Alvan D. Martinez was well cast as Spike for his expert (and hilarious!) reverse strip tease alone. He would do well to project a bit more. Madelaine Shouse plays an amusing Cassandra—her feigned disinterest contrasted with actual dedication is quirky and funny, though occasionally too detached. Brigit Davidson plays Nina as a sweet and simple ingénue.
My only problem with the ensemble cast was that, while everyone had their character developed individually, they sometimes had trouble gelling as a group. It’s nothing so big as missed cues, but there was a sense of disconnection between the actors at times. It got better as the show went on, though, so perhaps it comes down to some opening night nervousness.
Overall, director Jim Mitchel put together a solid production. There are occasional moments that don’t quite mesh—Nina shuffling slowly, seemingly as a gag with her Dopey costume, when she should be in a rush; or the scene where the two sisters end up crying at each other, pushing to the point of cartoonishness. These could have used some directorial tweaking, but the distractions only last a second before the characters carry us swiftly forward.
Jim Mitchell’s set design was excellent and well executed by George Horvath and his set crew: outdated pastels and chintzy florals gave the impression of a home that, while cozy, was in need of a new lease on life—not unlike its occupants. It even featured discoloration along the tops of the walls, subtly referencing the house’s need of a new roof as mentioned in the script.
Kathy Hinson’s costumes were appropriate. The coordination between Masha and Spike played somewhere between the romantic and the maternal. The costume party pieces were especially good; Masha’s classic Snow White and Sonia’s glamorous Maggie Smith dress were equally noteworthy for their quality—not only beautiful pieces on their own, but particularly perfect for their characters.
The show is off to a capable start, judging by its opening night, and I anticipate it can only grow richer over the course of its run. I wouldn’t mind seeing it again by closing weekend, to see how it’s changed—I find that growth over the weeks is one of the most wonderful things about theatre, as it’s a living art.
I can tell my mother enjoyed the show, too: she’d forgotten her playbill in my car and called to make sure I wouldn’t get rid of it because she hadn’t finished reading about the cast and crew and didn’t want to miss out. Don’t worry, I’ll get it to her! And I’ll make sure to bring her back for another show.
You can catch Vanya et. al. through October 8th at 550 Barberton Ave in Virginia Beach. Tickets can be found here.