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LIGHTNING REVIEW: Vagabonds back in 'Vanya and Sonia'

Scott Treadway and Paige Posey rehearse a scene from 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike' Scott Treadway and Paige Posey rehearse a scene from 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike'

First things first. How do you pronounce the name of this play, "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike"?

It's Vonya ("on ya" not "own ya"), Sonia (I'm not sure because in the course of the play the actors pronounced it with both a long o and short o), Masha (like a mosh dance, not mashed potatoes) and Spike.
Vanya and Sonia are names from Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" and their parents named Masha for a character in his "Three Sisters." Chekhov is no Neil Simon and a play that pays a glancing tribute to Chekhov is not going to be a light-hearted country club romp.
It takes less than a minute for Sonia's passive-aggressive behavior to disrupt an otherwise pleasant morning. Sonia (Paige Posey) blows up and breaks two coffee cups over an absurdly minor difference with her older brother Vanya, played by Scott Treadway.
"I dreamed I was 52 and I wasn't married," she says.
"Are you dreaming in documentary now?" he responds.
The two unmarried siblings, children of two professors, have lived their entire lives in a fine country house with cherry trees and a pond that is home to a great blue heron. Vanya and Sonia are in the world but not of the world. Having spent the last 10 years caring for their elderly parents, both of whom in the end suffered from Alzheimer's, they've only known family and the country home.
Their father was stern in his insistence that his children know the classics, tossing out pop quiz questions.
"What 7-year-old knows who wrote 'The Imaginary Invalid?'" Vanya says. "He was so angry when we didn't know something."
Sister Masha adds an electrical charge. She went off years ago to become an actress and made millions starring as a nymphomaniac serial killer in a box office smash that inspired four sequels.
 Masha's arrival from New York with her much younger boyfriend plunges the household into a toxic mixture of jealousy, old feuds and perceived slights.
Throw in the appropriately named psychic housekeeper Cassandra and the pot's aboilin'. (We saw the same [more annoying] hysterical psychic character in last season's "Deathtrap." Tip of the hat to Isabel Santiago for dialing it back a bit.)
For the rest of the first act, the actors feud over details large and small, the costume party later that evening, selling the house, the siblings' share of caregiving, Masha's carrying of the finances. Spike strips down to his Jockey shorts to go for a swim and brings back a girl his age who is visiting from next door, introducing a new conflict. Masha half succeeds in getting her brother and sister to dress as dwarves to her Snow White. Sonia says no; Vanya goes as Doc.
The costume party is a disaster for Masha but a stunning success for Sonia, who finds her social wings channeling the British actress Maggie Smith as the wicked witch. Smitten by her at the party, a widower phones her the next to ask for a date.
Vanya, meanwhile, has been coaxed into sharing a script he's written with the young girl, Nina (played fetchingly by Megan Yelaney). It stars a molecule and is about the weather, which worries him. Everything modern worries Vanya.



Vagabonds redux
The Playhouse has somewhat gingerly promoted the fact that "Vanya and Sonia" reunites Posey and Treadway, who managed the theater between the death of Robin Farquhar in 2008 and the arrival of Vincent Marini a year later.
Posey and Treadway are indeed good on stage together and in fact each delivers the best pieces of the show.
Treadway is at his comic and dramatic best as he delivers a long indictment of how a culture of technology-fueled self-absorption has obliterated the shared national experience through popular series like "I Love Lucy" and "The Mickey Mouse Show." If you were a kid in the 1950s, Vanya says, you were sitting in a movie theater watching "Davy Crocket," "not sitting alone in your room shooting prostitutes" in a video game.
Another highlight is when we hear Sonia's end of the dinner invitation phone call. Posey's character blossoms from beaten recluse to a more confident 52-year-old woman who sees that she just might have a chance at romance after all.
A portrait of Playhouse founder Robroy Farquhar on the back wall of the set adds a visual cue that the Vagabond spirit lives on — or something like that.
Directed by Lisa K. Bryant and also starring Marcy McGuigan as Masha and Drew Moerlein as Spike, "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" is a character driven show that only works with strong performances from the entire cast. The show succeeds because it does have that.

"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" runs through May 25. Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Tonight's "premiere" features a red carpet "Hollywood" event complete with paparazzi photos and a champagne toast. Arrive at 7 p.m. for the red carpet event. Tickets: 828.693.0731 or