Thursday October 19th 2017

“Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike”

Recommended *** Often, when seeing a play that I have already reviewed, I tend to recall what I saw in the previous production and make sure that I do not compare. I know that the size of the theater, the cast assembled, the director and the tech portions can make a difference. When I go to a smaller venue, such as the 144 seat Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest, I know that their limitations will influence what I see. Tonight, I was there for their production of Christopher Durang’s “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike”, a comedy that utilizes the works and mind of one Anton Chekhov to bring us a modern-day story. A family where the children were all named for Chekhov characters by their actor parents, we are not on a large estate with a “Cherry Orchard” surrounding us, but rather in a farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania. I must say the set (Michael Lewis has done a masterful job on such a small space) is realistic (except for missing panes of glass on the front door). In fact, this small theatre company is quite creative in their productions from the tech side.

Back to the story. Living in the farmhouse are Vanya (Billy Minshall is wonderful, in particular ,in the second act when he has a tirade relative to “multi-tasking” and the things we did in the 1950’s) and his adopted sister, Sonia ( powerfully played by Ellen Phelps). They were there to tend to their parents, who have now passed, while their sister Masha (deftly handled by Susie Steinmeyer), an actress, earned the money to pay all the bills. Her life is the one of pure excitement, while Vanya and Sonia, sort of exist, maybe even co-exist in their boring daily routine lives.

On this weekend, Masha is coming home for a little vacation and a costume party that is taking place in town. With her, her new, very young boyfriend (“boyfriend” is very accurate in this case), Spike ( Colin Morgan) who is also an actor, but one that is unemployed, in love with himself and with every young lady he meets. He is very open to everyone and when he strips down to his underwear and goes for s dip in the pond, their neighbor’s niece, young Nina (the adorable Lizzie Schwarzrock) comes by and becomes a weekend “friend”, or perhaps even more.

Over the next almost two hours ( in two acts with an intermission), we learn about each of the characters and the fact that Masha really wants nothing more than to sell the farmhouse so she is not pressured to take on roles that she finds not fitting for her. After all, she is an attractive woman who should not be playing “grandmother roles” (God Forbid!). Vanya “comes out” and we get to know about his play, which is a great scene , albeit too long, where he does get into the history of the phone, stamps and the postal system, and multi-tasking. Great scene, but maybe 15 minutes longer than it needs to be. The costume party in the first act is adorable filled with great comic touches where each of the cast members has a moment.

Speaking of cast members, there is one other actor in this production. The housekeeper, Cassandra (a rousing performance by Judy Lea Steele) who is a scene stealer extraordinaire! She has “powers” to see what is coming and does a great bit dealing with voodoo. It is a special scene filled with laughter and honesty, about people- their selfishness and selflessness. I loved every second she was on stage, and I think she felt the same way. Other than being a shade longer than I would like it to be ( I think 100 minutes without an intermission , might be perfect) I know you will find it a solid entertainment, in comfortable seating with great sight lines and a story that will make you laugh as well as think.

The tech side, as always, at Citadel, is near-perfection. Director Mark E. Lococo  knows how to use the stage and part of the audience section to make sure the flow of the play works well for the audience, and Stage Manager Samantha Tink makes sure that the scenes flow quickly and with no noise. The lighting (Emma Magrady) and sound (Bob Boxer) work to perfection and Ales Weinzieri’s costumes are very fitting. The props assemble by Jamie Karas add to the realism of the production. All in all, this is one that shows why Citadel is getting ready to head into their 15th season with an almost filled house on a cool Thursday night in Lake Forest.

“Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike” will continue at Citadel Theatre located at 300 S. Waukegan Road (Route 43, just south of Route 60/Townline Road) thru May 28th with performances as follows:

Thursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  8 p.m.

Saturdays  8 p.m.

Sundays 3 p.m.

There is also an 11 a.m. performance on Wednesday, May 17th

Tickets range from $35- $38 with discounts for seniors, students, military, actors and groups. Plenty of free parking.

To order your tickets call the box office at 847-735-8554 or visit http://www.CitadelTheatre.org, where you can also learn about the dining partners in the Lake Forest area where discounts are available.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, got to Review Round-Up and click at “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike”. If you love the works of Chekhov, you will delight in how Durang has challenged them. If you are just going to the theater to be entertained, this one will do the job!

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