Monday, January 19, 2015

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

God Bless Stamp-Lickers!

This comedy by Christopher Durang is directed by Rose Riordan.  It plays at the PCS space at 128 NW 11th Ave. through February 8th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-443-3700.

Durang is known for his offbeat comedies, his keen eye into the human psyche and keen ear for dialogue.  This latest is a Tony-Award winner.  It concerns an acting family who live at their childhood home near a pond in the Northeastern part of the U. S.  And, being from artistic roots, the children have been named after Chekovian characters.  There is Vanya (Andrew Sellon), a struggling playwright; Sonia Sharonlee Mclean, his adopted sister; and the owner of the house, another sister, Masha (Carol Halstead), a famous movie and stage star.

There is another namesake from Chekov, a neighbor, Nina (Eden Malyn), an aspiring young actress.  And to round out the household is Cassandra (Olivia Negron), a sometimes maid and sometimes seeress.  And Spike (Nick Ballard), Mr. Body-beautiful, Masha’s latest main squeeze.  At the outset there seems to be no love lost between any of these characters.  Vanya and Sonia snipe at each other.  Marsha seems an unwelcome guest and Spike seems more interested in Vanya than his meal-ticket (and vice versa).  Cassandra is just annoying at times.  And Nina seems totally lost in this world of the idle rich and famous.

But invitations to a costume party seem to bring out the true nature of these people.  And Masha, micro-managing, as always, wants their costumes to be around a theme, in which she will be the main character, Snow White.  But, after the party, Vanya gets talked into presenting a section of his play for them all, so he becomes the center of attention.  And when an unpopular decision is reached by the owner, Cassandra has her own way of dealing with it.  To tell more would be spoiling the plot, so you must see for yourselves.

The surface story, although entertaining, is not where the richness of the production lies.  It lies in the snappy dialogue of Durang and the presentation of it by such fine actors.  All these characters are multi-layered and just when you get to disliking one, they do something quite nice.

Sellon is wonderful as the dour Vanya.  And his “stamp-licking” monologue is terrific.  Not only is it well-delivered but I agree with it whole-heartedly!  Part of the point being is what have we lost when we entered this modern, electronic age.  For us “stamp-lickers” there is something inherently wrong if you can’t still appreciate the beauty of sunsets, classical music, and in-person dialogues with one another.  A true example might be when I went to the beach with a friend to view the sunset, I noticed she was engrossed with her cell phone.  I told her she was missing something quite unique in the setting sun.  Her response was that she’d looked one up later on u-tube.  I rest my case.

Mclean is also wonderful as the misfit sister, feeling that she has lost something by being alone all her life.  Her “Maggie Smith” was terrific.  Halstead as the cranky sister is a gem of contradictions and she makes them all work for her.  Negron, playing the eccentric maid, is a little like Madame Arcati, lots of fascinating bluster with a good heart.  Malyn plays the wide-eyed innocent to perfection.  And, speaking of perfection, Ballard certainly has the right physique for the part and plays the gold-digger to the hilt.  All of them are spot on in their portrayals!

The set design (Daniel Meeker) was so convincing that you were inclined to just be able to walk onto it and possibly enter a whole new world.  I especially like the way the lights and music introduced each scene, very cute.  The costumes by Mike Floyd of Snow White and her entourage were very clever.  And Riordan has done a super job of dealing with comic timing and choosing a dynamite cast for this production.

I do recommend this show and, if you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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