Scott and Jennifer and Vanya and Sonia and…

It’s been a fairly quiet stage theater season for us.

While Jennifer and I both love theater, very few of the productions being shown this year have really drawn our attention. Nothing at Theatre Under the Stars looked interesting enough for us to spend the high price to go, and Bayou City Theatrics‘s season mainly made us go, “Huh?” As far as non-musical theater goes, our favorite is Alley Theatre, but again there wasn’t anything playing that we found too terribly interesting. The exception came when we were waiting for the Brit Floyd show (which was across the street from the Alley), and we saw one of the shows for this season was Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. We knew it had been the winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, so we thought it couldn’t be THAT bad. We went ahead and got tickets, and saw it this past Sunday night.

So, how was it? Well, I liked it more than Jennifer did.

The entire play is pretty much a homage to the works of Anton Chekhov; Jennifer was far more familiar with Chekhov’s work than I was, so I was basically only seeing it on the surface without getting the reference. The play itself was about two siblings (one adopted) living in the same home they had since childhood, spending their days bemoaning the fact that they never did anything with their lives. Their expenses are paid by their sister Masha, who works as a movie actress. Masha returns home with her protegee and love interest, the handsome yet dim Spike, and informs her siblings that she intends to sell the house. The play then proceeds with the siblings worrying about Masha’s decision, Masha’s own insecurity about being upstaged, and Spike’s inability to keep his clothes on.

All in all, I enjoyed the performance and found it quite amusing and heartfelt. Admittedly, my favorite character was the housekeeper Cassandra, one of two non-title characters. Her character was funny, sassy, and resembled her namesake from Greek legend in that she would make dire predictions, but no one would believe her. The actress who played Cassandra played her with plenty of attitude to pull the role off.

I have to say that I was surprised by the other non-title character, Nina. Introduced as a potential rival for Spike’s affections, I was expecting the literal girl-next-door to be an antagonist, working against Masha to get Spike. The character was very sweet and kind, and instead of being interested in Spike found herself working alongside Vanya until the climax of the play, in which she helps Vanya perform a stage work he had written.

The only characters I really didn’t care for were Spike and Masha. Spike was one-dimensional and most likely intentionally so, more concerned about himself than those around them. Masha, on the other hand, was shrill and insensitive, and I found it difficult to feel sympathy for her as she worked to upstage everyone around her. Admittedly, neither Jennifer nor I have ever actually liked the actress who plays her, so my bias is probably showing there.

Again, not being familiar with Chekhov’s works, I only saw the surface elements in it. Once Jennifer explained Chekhov’s style to me, I got an impression of the deeper meaning; however, I get the feeling that I enjoyed it despite the Chekhov symbolism. Based on how Jennifer described his works, I don’t think I would enjoy them very much at all. Perhaps that’s why I liked the play more than she did.

Still, I was glad I got a chance to see Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and would recommend giving it a try if it’s playing near you.