Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike was last presented here in 2015 at Arena Dinner Theatre. In that excellent production, Nancy Kartholl played Sonia, one of two middle-aged siblings who are stuck at the family manse, lamenting the loss of their best years to elder care.
In the Civic Theatre production of the play that can be seen this weekend at the Parkview Physicians Group Artslab, Kartholl plays a flashier role: movie star Masha, who paid all the family bills in lieu of emptying her late parents’ bedpans.
When Masha returns home with Spike, her moronic stud muffin of a boyfriend, the three siblings clash in comic and moving ways.
Durang’s play pays homage to the works of Anton Chekov, but familiarity with that 19th century chronicler of the lives of the Russian landed gentry is not necessary to the enjoyment of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.
Kartholl is one of Fort Wayne’s best actors and Masha is a doozy of a role. It’s got a little of everything: grand comic business, but also a character arc that see Masha trade shaky egotism for stable humility (not to mention, humanity).
This production has no shortage of excellent performances. Kevin Knuth and Julie Donnell are fine as dour siblings, Vanya and Sonia. It is a pleasure to watch Donnell’s performance gain steam as her character undergoes a late bloom. Brock Eastom, as Spike, makes the showy most of his goofy character, and Marsha Wallace is delightful as housekeeping soothsayer (or soothsaying housekeeper) Cassandra.
The director is John Tolley who local theater aficionados may remember for his decades as artistic director of First Presbyterian Theater. Tolley teaches at the University of Chicago these days, but he returns to northeast Indiana periodically to remind us why our loss was Chicago’s gain.
With spring-like temperatures returning this weekend, a visit to the Civic’s black box space (and the nearby Pembroke Bakery & Cafe) is a perfect night out.
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