Inspired Performances in Theatre Palisades’ New Show

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

The six actors in Theatre Palisades’ newest show, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” throw themselves into their parts with abandon.

They are open and vulnerable and funny and endearing as they move from fury to tears to laughter and back again, often within seconds.

Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning 2013 play about three siblings going through a tumultuous, life-changing and strangely ordinary weekend is skillfully directed by Jonathan Fahn, who also directed last year’s “The Odd Couple,” and he receives inspired performances from his cast.

Kyle Jordan and Natalie Hovee in a scene from the Theatre Palisades production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Photo: Joy Daunis

Kyle Jordan and Natalie Hovee in a scene from the Theatre Palisades production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Photo: Joy Daunis

The story takes place in the home of Vanya (played by Scott Gardner with a warm groundedness that centers the play) and his neurotic adopted sister Sonia (played by chameleon Wendy Taubin, who can transform from a mouse to a diva and back in a split second). The two characters, who are in their 50s and have had a mostly unfulfilling life caring for their now-deceased parents, are blasted out of their comfort zones by a whirlwind visit from their narcissistic movie-star sister, Masha, and her much younger paramour, Spike.

Masha, also in her 50s, is both an inspiration and a living critique of the lives of the twosome, who are stuck in a rut of in action and sometimes self-pity, and she comes through like a velvet wrecking ball to instigate some needed change. An imperious yet fragile figure (played by Mia Christou with an emotional range that can be both gut wrenching and hilarious), Masha is also going through changes as her career and beauty are on the cusp of waning, and her love life sputters. Her boyfriend Spike (played by Kyle Jordan with a playful and magnetic intensity) prances around in his underwear, flirting with everyone and feeding Masha’s insecurities.

Meanwhile, a young, lovely and optimistic neighbor, Nina (played with a glowing warmth by Natalie Hovee), unintentionally stokes Masha’s fears, while the cleaning lady, Cassandra (played by a gleefully funny Bri Giger), regularly leaps onto the scene and foretells disaster in a mishmash of ancient Greek theater and contemporary references.

The ensemble cavort and shine and lament their sorrows in a play that seems written just yesterday with one character worrying about both climate change and a quickly evolving society where even young children know the meaning of the word pussy. The set, created by Theatre Palisades veteran Sherman Wayne, is a perfect backdrop for the action with its detailed recreation of the siblings’ country home, and the costumes, created by June Lissandrello, enhance the characters and plot with both flair and aptness.

Allusions to Anton Chekhov, particularly “Three Sisters,’ are aplenty, and a joy in the absurd is ever-present as the play waxes and wanes through the weekend journey of the characters. The family’s often petty dramas, such as jealousy between siblings and the unfairness and capriciousness of life, are explored with humor and verve. The actors create a world that enchants and connects, while it envelops the audience in an oddly compelling spell that leaves one very happy to have spent an evening with this often ridiculous family and their friends.

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” produced by Martha Hunter and Sherman Wayne, plays through July 9 at Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Rd. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for seniors and students. For more information, call 310-454-1970 or visit http://www.theatrepalisades.com

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