Feb 6, 2017

[Theater] Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Repertory Philippines)

With the start of the new year comes Repertory Philippines' regular theater season of shows and with it our on-going tradition of sorts to see all three plays if we can manage it. And the first show they selected to kick off the year is quite the comedy,

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is quite a mouthful as a title and I could never remember it until after we had watched the play. But it does make sense for the show is really all about these four characters and thus nicely captures what it's all about as opposed to coming up with some alternative title or whatever.

As our first play for the year, it was a pretty great choice and we're all the better for it. It was funny and raunchy and quite a lot of fun. Repertory has had mixed results with comedies in the past but I think it's safe to say that this turned out well. And if this is an indicator of the rest of the season, then we're definitely in good hands.

Synopsis: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a comedy play written by Christopher Durang. The show won the Tony Award for Best Play and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play after its Broadway debut. This Repertory Philippines staging was directed by Bart Guingona and ran from January 20 - February 12, 2017 at the OnStage Theater.

The play begins with the siblings Vanya (Michael Williams) and Sonia (Roselyn Perez) starting their day with a cup of coffee. As they end up arguing about little things, we find out that they were named after characters in Chekhov's characters from his plays and it's now just the two siblings living at the family home. They had pretty much devoted their lives to taking care of their parents and not start to regret not having done much else.

Then along comes Masha (Cherie Gil), the sibling who left and became an actress and actually supports the household through her career. She comes with Spike (Joaquin Valdes), her latest boyfriend after her fifth marriage did not turn out. She initially states she's in town for a costume party but it is later revealed that she's considering selling the house and kicking the other siblings out.

What I Liked: The show is amazingly well-written with zingers left and right and the very narrative structure of things supporting the comedy. This is not to say that the show is all fun and games as it does have some interesting and rather verbose bits, as one might expect from a play that also acts as a sort of homage to Chekhov.

The cast brings the characters to life quite well and beyond that it's clear that they're all having fun with the production. And I think that's really important when you're performing a comedy - you need to genuinely enjoy things as well. When you're dragging your feet in matters, the comedy just doesn't deliver in the end. For that matter Cherie Gil was absolutely brilliant and she really made the most of her role. I was surprised at how well Roselyn Perez brought Sonia to life as I've mostly seen her in more serious productions. This was quite refreshing to see.

Also we have to celebrate the beauty of the set that they put together that had a lot of detail that may not have been essential or absolutely necessarily but added to the feel of things. I could have imagined the play with a more minimalist set or a house set without the extra details of the surrounding woods and trees. But adding in those elements together with some great lighting made for a great show.

What Could Have Been Better: Of course not every joke can hit home and there were still some bits where the timing felt off or the actors actually fumbled their lines quite distinctly and had to repeat it with the proper words back in place. I can understand that preparation time was probably tight given the December holidays right in the middle of things but the mistakes were still noticeable.

I did enjoy Naths Everett's performance as Cassandra, the cleaning lady, although at times it felt like her delivery was a little rushed or lacked the appropriate pausing to ensure each line was delivered effectively. It's hard given how much the character has to say when she's on stage and how random the statements can be as well. But I really wanted more from this character and the performance we watched felt a little short.

TL;DR: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a hilarious show that was designed to make you laugh but also make you think and maybe make you giggle with the ridiculous cod piece whatever Joaquin Valdes slips into his boxes for that other scene in his underwear. It's a quirky homage to Chekhov that works on its own even if you don't know Chekhov and it's a fun start to the new theater season. Thus the show gets a solid 5 shenanigans by the pond out of a possible 5.

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