Theatre Review: Much to Enjoy with This Quarrelsome Clan

Bob Fischbach / The Omaha World Herald

A witty script, strong production values and an exceptional performance from a leading actress are the chief reasons to catch “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” a SNAP Productions comedy.

Thursday’s opener had plenty of laugh-out-loud moments delivered by director Daena Schweiger’s spirited cast.

Playwright Christopher Durang’s best-play Tony winner is a stylized hybrid, presenting special challenges to get the comedic tone just right. There’s a streak of formality in the language, and a faint hint of the absurdism Durang is known for also creeps in here and there.

Mostly, these characters are meant to be grounded in a sense of realism, an intent Durang made clear. It’s a goal not fully, consistently met.

Occasionally — just occasionally — it feels like a house divided as much in acting styles as by the plot.

But it’s a lot of fun to watch.

Meet Vanya and Sonia, a brother and sister who spent their adult lives caring for aging parents. Their sister, Masha, a famous actress, paid the bills. Mom and Dad, a couple of academics who named their kids after Chekhov characters, have recently died.
That leaves Vanya and Sonia, 50-somethings who have never held a job or a lover, feeling a little empty. An opening in which Sonia picks a fight over morning coffee is a stitch, while also establishing Vanya (Randy Vest) as peacemaker and Sonia (Moira Mangiameli) as unhappy and depressed.
It doesn’t help that housekeeper Cassandra (Jodi Vaccaro) claims a sixth sense, and her dire predictions tend to come true.

Enter self-absorbed Masha (Connie Lee), swooping in unannounced in full midlife crisis, a boy toy half her age in tow. Spike (Kevin Gibbs) has a penchant for doffing shirt and pants and flirting with just about everybody. An actor “almost” cast in “Entourage 2” (we get to see his awful audition), his looks make up for his user personality.

Soon he’s attracted a sweet, naive neighbor girl, Nina (Jana Coburn), a real fan of Masha, who instantly resents her presence. You can’t move in this cozy sunroom (a fine set by Ronnie Wells) without tripping over jealousy, insecurity, regret, rivalry, self-absorption, lust or ambition.
The pot gets stirred by a costume party for which Masha dresses as Snow White and expects everyone else to be her supporting cast; a play Vanya wrote that leads to a rant; a voodoo doll Cassandra has a little fun with; Masha’s decision to sell the family home; and Sonia’s impersonation of Maggie Smith, which snags her an admirer.

Mangiameli gives an amazing, hilarious, moving performance as Sonia. A scene in which she takes a phone call from that admirer is perfection as vulnerability, gratitude, fear, hope and so much more flash across her face. She gets that elusive comedic tone just right, keeping a sense of realism even as she smashes coffee cups and declares herself “a wild turkey.”

Vest is just right as comedic foil Vanya, caught in the crossfire of his sisters while trying not to drool over Spike in boxer briefs. Coburn seems a natural as wide-eyed innocent Nina.

Everyone in the cast gets fine moments in which to shine, and whatever feels uneven about style surrenders to the fun of all-too-familiar family turmoil.

Wesley Pourier’s costumes, Schweiger’s sound design and Joshua Mullady’s day/dusk lighting also elevate the production.

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