In The Writer's World

Hot off the wire: “Chris Durang’s play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is the most produced play in the country today,” according to the folks on NPR’s Here & Now, who are interviewing the playwright as we speak. VSM&S won the Best Play Tony in 2013. It is currently running in 27 regional theatres nationwide. I took myself on an Artist’s Date last week to the excellent production of same at Portland Center Stage. Directed by Rose Riordan, the play centers on a sour, stuck pair of late-middle-age siblings. Sonia (Sharonlee McLean) is the adopted one in the family. For 30 years she has pined for Vanya (Andrew Sellon), who is gay. Her ensemble is ghastly and she’s drinking a Coke for breakfast, as they argue about coffee and, with a nod to the long dead Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, crane their necks in an effort to see the resident heron in the pond.

It’s a nice house and belonged to their late parents. They cared for said parents for 15 years. Finally, with both parents dead, the sibs are miserable. Enter the housekeeper, Cassandra. “Beware of Hootie PIE!” she warns. Cassandra (Olivia Negron) is a clairvoyant housekeeper who manages to steal the show from its principals at least five times! And then Masha (Carol Halstead), the aging actress older sister, arrives with her boyfriend Spike (Nick Ballard)–a man young enough to be her son (see below), who feels “freer” the fewer clothes he wears. Masha owns the house and has been paying all the bills for years. Her assistant, Hootie Pie, has advised her to sell it.


Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

In addition to the looming housing crisis, there are: a little Voo Doo; a costume party with Masha as Snow White (the ancient Disney version), Vanya and the neighbor girl (Nina, played by Eden Malyn, who talks like a chipmunk) as dwarfs, Spike as Prince Charming, and Sonia as Dame Maggie Smith; and several more nods to Chekhov.

It’s quite the circus. I am not at all certain Chekhov would have approved.

But we don’t care. The play is side-splitting, and we all could use a little of that in January. It runs through February 8 on the main stage at Portland Center Stage.

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