IU Southeast Theater Department’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” brought comedy, Chekhov references and great characterization to the stage when performances began running in the Ogle Center on Friday, Feb. 21.
The production was directed by Ashley Wallace, the visiting assistant professor of theater performance at IU Southeast.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” featured a small cast of only six actors and actresses, three of which made their acting debut on the Robinson Stage in the Ogle Center with this production.
The cast included Jesylyn Batman as Sonia, Hamilton Craig as Spike, Charles Lauffer as Vanya, Carmen Miller as Masha, Avery Wilson as Nina and Esther Yebei as Cassandra.
The play was written by Christopher Durang, who mentioned in an author’s note included in the playbill that although three of the character’s names were references to names from Anton Chekhov’s plays and there are multiple references to Chekhov throughout the play, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is written in a way that people who did not know Chekhov could enjoy it.
The cast of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” may have been small, but some of the characters seemed larger than life onstage thanks to excellent characterization.
Miller, a senior theatre and Spanish double major at IU Southeast who played the character of Masha in the production, perfectly captured the essence, class and attitude of the successful movie star of the family.
Whether she was having a crisis about her life being over, yelling at her young and handsome boyfriend Spike, or stirring up drama over a costume party, Miller brought a flair to the production that was well-received by the audience.
Yebei, a freshman majoring in psychology at IU Southeast who played the character of Cassandra in the production, amazed audiences with her over-the-top and eccentric portrayal of the clairvoyant cleaning lady.
Whenever Cassandra would enter a scene practicing voodoo, yelling about the cursed future, or even just performing her usual cleaning duties, Yebei’s characterization of Cassandra would bring life and movement to scenes that may have otherwise been very one-dimensional.
Set Design and Costume Design
The set design for “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” included an impressive farmhouse set that had multiple rooms and a functioning staircase. All of the scenes took place in the morning room, which was situated at the front of the stage.
Compared to previous productions at IU Southeast that had more minimalistic set designs, the more intricate set design for “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” was a nice and refreshing change of pace.
The costume design for the show was mostly casual with the exception of Miller’s character Masha, who wore elegant and fashionable outfits for the duration of the show, and Yebei’s character Cassandra, who wore eccentric and vibrant outfits for the duration of the show.
Another exception to the casual costume designs were the Evil Queen, Prince Charming, Doc, Snow White and Dopey costumes for the costume party that Batman, Craig, Lauffer, Miller and Wilson respectively wore for a few scenes.
One criticism about “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” was the pacing of the show itself. The scenes were very long and there were only a few blackouts in both the first and second acts. Each of the actors did a wonderful job, but the length of the scenes could be a little off-putting in certain circumstances.
A scene in particular that had a pacing issue was near the end of the show in the second act. Lauffer’s character Vanya has a monologue that serves an important purpose but seems to go on for a bit too long.
While Lauffer performed the monologue well, the length of the scene was distracting especially since it was so close to the end of the show.
Another criticism is that the chemistry between some of the characters could have been improved upon. Some of the relationships, like the one between Masha and Spike, had great chemistry onstage.
However, the relationship between the three siblings (Masha, Vanya and Sonia) could have been stronger in some instances.
Overall, IU Southeast Theater Department’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is one that both IUS students and community members should attend.
Performances of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” run at the Ogle Center through Feb. 21-23 and Feb. 28-March 1.