At the Phoenix Theatre, a solid cast effectively demonstrates how to turn a fair play into a very entertaining evening.
Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” picked up a Tony Award just a few months ago for Best Play on Broadway, but that speaks more to the few original plays staged last season than it does to the quality of this one. That’s not to say it’s a bad play—just a scattershot one that feels a few drafts away from solid.
You might not notice that, though, given the joyful attack being launched on it by Charles Goad and Diane Kondrat, who play the first two of the title quartet.
As step-siblings lamenting the lack of excitement in their lives, the duo turned inertia into theatrical bliss. And the blossoming of Kondrat’s Sonia—particularly during a phone call where she’s alone on stage—is a sight to behold, showing a surprising sweet side to the usually absurdist, cynical Durang while offering a master class by Kondrat in soulfully funny acting.
Less effectively written are prophecy-spouting cleaning woman Cassandra (Dwandra Nickole Lampkin) and Masha, a Hollywood actress who is given far too much stage time with little to do but offer variations on shallow. To actress Jen Johansen’s credit, the imbalance merely tilts the play rather than sinks it. More endearing are Spike, unashamedly played (even in his skivvies) by Pete Lindblom, and Nina (Ashley Dillard), the picture of enthusiastic sweetness.
“You must always get your hopes up,” says Nina, which isn’t a philosophy I expected from a Durang play, but one that plays beautifully in this smartly designed, well-directed production.
Speaking of "Vanya etc.," it's one of the most-produced plays in the country this season. See the rest of the top ones here.
Look for additional reviews of the IRT's "The Crucible" and NoExit Performance's "Big Bad Wolf" in the Sept. 30 IBJ.