Masha is an aging female movie star. She dreams of what she could have done in serious roles . . . and a better life. She just isn't sure what will make it better. Her career has let her keep the family home, but now the parts that are being offered are few and far between. After five marriages, she now has a boy friend, Spike, who is young and ambitious . . . after all, he almost got a part in Entourage II (hold up two fingers when you read this.)
Spike's happy to help out with whatever he can do. Favors, sexual favors, and walking around half naked are his good points.
Masha is played by Stephanie Leeper. Stephanie has a BFA in Musical Theatre, and has been performing for over twenty years at places like the 5th Avenue Theatre, Civic Light Opera, and Tacoma Little Theatre (Truvy in Steel Magnolias.
While Masha has been out in the world earning money, her two siblings (one adopted) stayed home and helped their aging parents. Sonia is fifty-two, unmarried without any prospects and discouraged. Vanya is in his mid-fifties, gay, and complacent.
Each day Sonia and Vanya drink their morning coffees, bicker, and look out at the wildlife in their pond. Neither are happy.
Dayna Childs plays Sonia. And she "plays" irritated really well. Martin Larson plays Vanya. Martin also holds a BFA in Theatre as well as Culinary and Pastry Degrees.
The part of Vanya brought Martin back to theatre after twenty-six years.
Masha has returned home with Spike and a notion to sell the family home out from under her brother and sister. Sibling rivalry also includes a comeuppance for the pair.
Masha has been invited to a local costume party. She will be Snow White and Spike will be Prince Charming, Vanya will play Grumpy, and Sonia will play either Dopey or some other part that will be even more discouraging. Vanya and Sonia put up a defense when they find out, but are no match for Masha.
Masha always wants to be top dog. I see the theme as crushed hopes and regrets. The story forms around the names. Each of the children were named after their parents' favorite characters in stories by Anton Chekhov.
Everyone knows that Russian novels don't usually have Disney-esque happy endings.
While Spike goes swimming in the pond wearing only his underwear he meets a young woman, Nina. He brings her to the home much to Masha's dismay. Nina will be coming to the costume party.
When Nina shows up looking like a Disney princess, something has to be done. Masha pooh-poohs Nina's costume and forces her to become Dopey. She's actually a cute Dopey.
All dressed up, Vanya as opted to call his character Doc instead of Grumpy, Nina played by Leena Lambert, who has credits galore, comes naturedly as Dopey, but Sonia throws a wrench into Masha's plans by going to the party as Dame Maggie Smith accepting an Oscar, complete with posh accent. Of course the party doesn't work out for Masha.
Things do brighten up for Maggie Smith, however.
The housekeeper, Cassandra, played by LaNita Hudson, is the vehicle that moves the story along. Cassandra takes on the part of the Greek and/or Roman chorus combined with the witches of Macbeth. She intones "Beware the ides of March" and warns of not trusting Greeks bearing gifts, Trojan horses or Trojans in the wallet. Like Cabaret this production is not for young children.
Cassandra's warnings all turn out to be true. Is she sensitive to another world of vibes, or is she just a good listener and a good guesser?
Cassandra lies, cajoles, practices Voodoo, and ends up singing "God Bless the Child" as she dusts the furniture, while singing into a make believe microphone (a spray can of Endust). She's a mash-up of lyrics and thought patterns.
LaNita gives quite a performance whenever she is on stage. As I said, she's the vehicle that moves the storyline, and she's always in over-drive. There is no way that character cannot be done completely over the top.
Vanya and Nina strike up a friendship and she wants to help him stage a reading of a script he's been writing. It's a little obscure complete with weather reports, disasters, and the complete annihilation of the Earth. Nina plays the part of a molecule, while Cassandra, and Sonia take on parts as well.
During the reading Spike takes a call on his cell, then texts, and begins playing a digital game before Vanya takes him down a peg . . . or two . . . or three. Vanya's tirade is worth the price of admission. His soliloquy, if given by a presidential hopeful, might win a slot on the ballot as THE candidate of the ages. There was a lots of applause when he done speaking.
By the time Vanya finishes his rant, you know everything will be all right with the world, with a few adjustments, perhaps.
Our granddaughter, Bailee, joined us for the production. She had read the play and one of her friends also liked it but she'd never seen it performed.
After the play, we praised the production to Managing Artistic Director Chris Serface and then we headed to Adriatic Grill for dinner and a post-play discussion. Many years ago when Peg's mom, Rita, was alive we would see a Sunday afternoon performance at Tacoma Actors Guild and then go to Bimbo's for dinner and talk about the play, the actors, the direction and the costumes. Joining Rita and Peg were Peg's sisters Pat and Marie along with family friend Bobbie Rogers. It felt like old times.
Bailee, Peg, and I had a an excellent meal and lots of ideas concerning the play. My only problem was that I thought the first act dragged in the last fifteen minutes, however, the second act made everything right. The cast did an excellent job. We look forward to seeing each of the actors in future productions. I think we'll see this play a second time during its run.
"Vanya" runs through April 24th, with 7:30 performances on Friday and Saturday and Sunday matinées at 2. Call the box office at 253-272-2281 for information and tickets. Check out their website tacomalittletheatre.com for the upcoming 98th season.