Review: Hudson Reed’s ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ |

Review: Hudson Reed’s ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’

Kathy Pelowski (Masha), Cathy Markle (Sonia) and Tim Estin (Vanya) in "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike." The Hudson Reed Ensemble is staging the play at the Aspen Black Box Theatre through Sunday.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” presented by Hudson Reed Ensemble

Where: Black Box Theatre, Aspen High School

When: Friday, March 27, Saturday, March 28, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 29, 6:30 p.m.

Cost: $25

Tickets: Available at the door; in advance at, 970-319-6867

It stretches the imagination to think of many situations where a phrase like “I am bipolar and have incipient dementia” can or should earn laughs. But Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning play, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” pulls it off.

The play, currently running at the Black Box Theatre in a production from the Hudson Reed Ensemble, brings a wacky comedic sensibility to the decidedly earnest, dramatic world of Anton Chekhov, transporting it to Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

As it opens, Vanya (Tim Estin) and his adopted sister Sonia (Cathy Markle) are in their pajamas bickering over their morning coffee and staring glumly out the window at a heron on a pond outside the family home the middle-aged siblings have been in all their lives. Estin and Markle play well off of one another as these two sad sacks detailing their first world problems (which, for Sonia, include the self-proclaimed bipolarity and dementia).

Two arrivals shake things up for the pair.

First is Cassandra (Nina Gabianelli), the aptly-named family cleaning lady. Gabianelli is wonderful as a crowd-pleasing, hex-throwing mystic who can sort of see the future and offers many outrageous, ominous warnings such as “Beware of Hootie Pie!”

Next is Vanya and Sonia’s self-centered and woefully un-self-aware sister, Masha (Kathy Pelowski), in from Hollywood, where she’s best known for starring in a series of movies about a nymphomaniac serial killer. Pelowski is great fun as the gloating, glittering actress. She has a boy toy, Spike (Adam Solomon), in tow, who proudly almost got a part in “Entourage 2” and who can’t help stripping off his clothes. On a trip to swim in the aforementioned pond, he picks up Nina (Jamie Contractor), who accompanies Spike back to the house and drives Masha mad with jealousy.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Masha’s wish to attend a nearby costume party (she as Snow White and everyone else, naturally, as the Seven Dwarves), and to sell the family house out from under Vanya and Sonia.

There are some big laughs in Durang’s show and many spot-on comedic hits from this talented local cast blending subtle — and much not-so subtle — physical humor with impeccable over-the-top characters and fine comic timing.

But there also are noticeable lulls in the second act. The momentum of the Hudson Reed production slows considerably and unfortunately toward the conclusion, as Vanya freaks out on Spike for texting and launches into a long speech about the good old days (in this case, the 1950s) when life moved at a slower pace and you had to lick postage stamps to send messages to friends. What could have been a climactic moment or a heartfelt statement, instead, in this staging, comes off as a rambling “get off my lawn” styled diatribe about kids these days that doesn’t make you laugh nor give you much to think about. Stumbling to the finish line, however, doesn’t spoil all the fun to be had in this show, which is well worth the trip to Bucks County.

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” runs through Sunday at the Black Box Theatre.

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