Review by Shelli Park
To be entertained by a hilariously witty mélange of dialogue interwoven with a plethora of references from the plays of Chekhov, and with interspersed portents of tragedy-to-come, or having already just happened, as the case may be, is a wonderful diversion in these early Spring days when we are still not allowed to be fully free to move about as in days of olde. Such is the gift of the Tony Award-winning Christopher Durang play presented by Burien Actors Theatre as their 2021 season opener, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.
A number of us have had some extra time on our hands over the past year to reflect on our lives. Are we satisfied with how we have spent our time; what is our top ten list of regrets; is there anything we would change now that we are faced with this awareness? Durang, in this timely comedy, addresses those very questions through the three main characters, siblings who were named after Chekhov characters by their university professor parents: What to do about a life unlived?
Vanya (Kevin Boze) and Sonia (Michelle Conklin) live in the family home, as they have nearly their entire lives. They have the dry familiarity of unsatisfied people who have shared space for too long with unaddressed needs. Vanya is fairly grounded, thoughtful, but also a bit passive aggressive. Boze embodies his character. He successfully balances Vanya’s strengths and vulnerability as he navigates the ensuing drama brought about by the visit of Masha (Carrie Schnelker), the sister who got away.
Michelle Conklin as Sonia is quite wonderful. Her awkwardness, insecurity, and disappointment in life resonates. Conklin holds her own in scene, having good presence. She plays a great Evil Queen/Maggie Smith widening the range of the play. I particularly appreciate her performance during a surprise phone conversation in the Act 2 Scene 3. Her timing and delivery are quite lovely.
It is easiest to process the pains of life through comedy. Taking the comedy up a notch, Durang throws in a bit of Greek mythology, adding a housekeeper, who also has the gift of prophecy, named Cassandra (played by Noelle Mestres) to the mix. Cassandra is my favorite character in this production, though it is hard to decide at times. Mestres is hilarious. Cassandra often goes into a semi-trance, which is loud and dramatic, giving warning to Sonia and Vanya of impending tragedy, or simply an inconvenience, such as a bat entering the house. Mestres’ ability to switch through accents is amazing, and though her character is over the top, she never comes across as inauthentic.
When Masha and Spike (Kassey Castro) enter the scene, the outside world crashes in, disrupting the, if not idyllic, at least predictable, home. Schnelker and Castro bring in Hollywood superficiality and vanity. The tension between siblings is obvious, particularly between Sonia and Masha. Masha owns the family home and has been supporting her two siblings. It’s clear that there are resentments. Jealousy spills out. Schnelker as Masha is brash and bossy, creating a caricature that she successfully transitions to showing that she has layers. Her eventual vulnerability teased some empathy out of me.
Spike, as Masha’s boy toy, causes amusement and derision. Castro plays an air-headed star wannabe with aplomb. As Nina says, ‘Spike is attractive, except for his personality’.
Hanna Kathline brings a breath of fresh air to the production as Nina, the niece of the next door neighbors who Spike meets down at the pond. Kathline develops a character who is a wide-eyed ingenue full of innate wisdom. Her presence grounds each scene that she is in with the consistency of her performance. Nina’s relationship with Vanya is a sweet development in the story. I enjoyed the dialogue between Vanya, attempting to make something of his life though so much has passed, and Nina, who sees Vanya’s potential and encourages him to share what he has secretly been working on.
By the end of the play, Vanya, Sonia and Masha acquire a new outlook on their remaining days:
Together, again, they give us hope that all is not lost.
- Vanya Kevin Boze
- Spike Kassey Castro
- Sonia Michelle Conklin
- Cassandra Noelle Mestres
- Nina Hannah Kathline
- Masha Carrie Schnelker
- Maggie Larrick
- Rochelle Flynn
As always, BAT’s Shelter-in-place Seasons are pay-what-you-will. If money is tight, see the show for as little as $1. If money is not so tight, help keep BAT alive during COVID-19 with a higher donation. (Please keep in mind the maximum our link page can accept at one time is $10,000.)
“BAT looks forward to seeing you at the show!”