It’s easy to see why Vanya/Spike is so popular. Compared to the inanity that passes for comedy these days, it’s smart, compelling and good fun. 

click to enlarge WEB1-CityRep-VSMS-Haulston-Mann-and-Stacey-Logan.jpg

You can’t accuse Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre (CityRep) of being contrarians with their production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at CitySpace. According to American Theatre magazine, this comedy by Christopher Durang will be the most-produced play this season in the United States, holiday shows and Shakespeare plays excepted. It’s easy to see why Vanya/Spike is so popular. Compared to the inanity that passes for comedy these days, it’s smart, compelling and good fun.

Middle-aged siblings Vanya and Sonia have spent their best years caring for aging parents who died of Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, their sister, Masha, has supported the family working as a movie star. She regretfully passed up the chance to play her namesake in Anton Chekhov’s The Three Sisters to act in a series of B-movies about a nymphomaniac serial killer, but it paid the bills. Now, Masha has returned home with her boy toy, Spike, an idiot of the first water.

This CityRep production has much going for it. First is director Michael Jones’ staging. As the title indicates, the characters and story are Chekhovian. Vanya and Sonia spend much time gazing at their pond, waiting for a blue heron to return. The family might lose its estate (well, its upper-middle-class home). They have a cherry orchard (a few trees). Some of the dialog sounds as if it were translated from 19th-century Russian.

Jones brought together an excellent cast. Each character has a scene in which he or she excels. Not that every moment is stunning, but Durang’s writing is engaging. (Vanya/Spike won the 2013 Tony Award for best play.)

As Vanya and Sonia, Shawn Churchman and Wendy Welch open the play with that antiquated dialog. Churchman and Welch nail their performances as the characters show unexpected strength.

As Masha, Stacey Logan runs the gamut from imperious to fragile. In her best performance yet for CityRep, Logan plays the character as a classic bully propelled by her own insecurity.

Haulston Mann’s job as the buff Spike is to look sexy in his underwear (he does) and to act the dolt, which he does with considerable skill. Lauren Grace Thompson is sweet as Nina, who appeals to both Vanya and Spike in different ways.

But none of the performances exceed that of Kyra Wharton as the cleaning lady, Cassandra, who embodies her namesake from Greek mythology in predicting disasters both large and small. Cassandra doesn’t like using voodoo — unless it’s for a good cause. Wharton’s delightful performance raises the production’s energy level, and that’s not a knock against the other actors.

All of the elements of a fine show come together in CityRep’s Vanya/Spike. A worthy script and a quality production make for satisfying theater.

Print headline: Name brand, CityRep’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is an exercise in supremely satisfying theater.

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Larry Laneer

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