They bit off more than they can chew with their production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” but the Spotlight Players deserve props for their efforts at bringing theater to metro Indy’s underserved far Eastside. The organization which is in its first season at the Theatre at the Fort, located at the former Fort Benjamin Harrison, in collaboration with Partnerships For Lawrence, is presenting Christopher Durang’s hilarious comedy through April 17. This reviewer was present at Thursday night’s preview.
A 2013 Tony Award winner for Best Play, “Vanya, et al.” takes place in Bucks County, Pa., at the family home of Vanya (Jim LaMonte), and his adopted sister Sonia (Kathy Pataluch). Both sibs are single. Having taken care of their ailing parents who have since died, they are left feeling unfulfilled, hopeless and convinced that their lives have passed them by. Constantly predicting disasters that are just around the corner is Cassandra (Jenni White) their psychic housekeeper. One of her predictions comes true with an unexpected visit from the sibs’ narcissistic, film star sister Masha (Nan Macy) who arrives with her shallow and conceited boyfriend Spike (Rahshe Byrd). Adding to this screwball mix is sweetly earnest neighbor Nina (Megan Nicole Smith), an aspiring actress and adoring fan of Masha’s.
The three quarrelsome sibs, named by theater loving, academician parents, are broken and fearful about their uncertain futures. During the play they are forced to confront not only their own insecurities but also their dysfunctional relationships with one another.
Central to the story is the family home which is in Masha’s name. She has been paying all the bills for its upkeep and supporting her brother and sister who have never really been independent. When she announces that she intends to sell the house, her decision threatens the security of Vanya and Sonia who would have to leave the only home they have ever known.
The play’s title and some of its dialogue reference the works of Russian playwright Anton Chekov. Unlike Chekov’s angst-ridden characters that stay imprisoned in their gloom, however, Durang releases his. But not before the hijinks that ensue before they achieve it.
This writer always strives to be fair minded when reviewing all-volunteer, community theater productions, recognizing that not-for-profit budgets are usually limited. This production was no exception as evidenced by its lack of polish. But at the same time, director Jeremy Tuterow seemed to have done the best he could with the resources he had.
As far as the acting—LaMonte and Pataluch turned in the most convincing performances but others were subpar. There were flaws aplenty including, uncomfortable moments of silence as actors struggled to remember lines. In addition, poor pacing slowed the action down so often it was difficult to pay attention and maintain one’s focus.
What saved the production for this writer, however, was Durang’s wondrously clever script, which despite its sometimes uneven execution, nevertheless managed to uplift with its hope-filled themes of acceptance and forgiveness.
For tickets and information about Spotlight Players production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” call (317)366-4795 or visit brownpapertickets.com.