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Escape With Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Northport’s Engeman Theater

From left to right: Stephen Mark Lucas as Spike, Mary Sean Young as Masha, and Laurie Dawn as Sonia. Photos by Michael DeCristofaro.

From left to right: Stephen Mark Lucas as Spike, Mary Sean Young as Masha, and Laurie Dawn as Sonia. Photos by Michael DeCristofaro.

Winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, by award winning playwright Christopher Durang ,Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs through March 8, 2015, at The John W. Engeman Theater and you don’t want to miss it. This is a comedy that enthralls its audience with hilarious moments and equally serious undertones that reflect on themes from playwright Anton Chekov’s plays. The humor in Vanya colors the despair of the situations these three middle-aged siblings find themselves in as they reflect on their lives, past and present. If you are familiar with Chekov, you will recognize the names of the characters and references to his plays such as the play’s setting in a cherry orchard and references to The Seagull, but the familiarity is not necessary to enjoy this play. Performances of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike are on Thursdays at 8:00 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm.

A hilarious, almost 10-minute long, monologue by brother Vanya brings the play into modern times, touching on global warming and the way electronic devices now control everyone’s lives, as compared with the past when we “had to have patience; when we had to lick postage stamps.” While certainly funny, Vanya’s monologue is also sad as middle-aged and older audience members reflect on how disconnected human beings have become now that there’s texting, twitter, and Facebook rather than shared experiences playing board games such as Scrabble and Monopoly, as noted by Vanya. Actor Kevin Pariseau is fabulous as Vanya. His credits includeBroadway/Off-Broadway: Show Boat (in concert with the NY Philharmonic), Legally Blonde the Musical, The Explorers Club, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh; Film/TV: Boardwalk Empire (series finale), Tower Heist, Morning Glory; and Regional: Nerds (Philadelphia Theater Company), It’s a Wonderful Life (Bucks County Playhouse), 1776 (Paper Mill Playhouse), and Santa in The Radio City Christmas Spectacular (Grand Ole Opry).

There are many memorable  moments. Highlights include the first scene when we are introduced to Vanya and his sister Sonia, who are living in their parents’ home where they grew up in Bucks County, PA. “I had a bad dream last night that I was 52 and not married,” laments Sonia. Queries Vanya, “Do you dream in the documentary form?”

Sonia continues, “We took care of our elderly parents while Masha (their sister) carried on with her successful acting career.” Sonia’s world is tedious and full of  self-pity; she is the only one to have been unadopted and she is unsure why they ever wanted her; she is unmarried and 52 and has lived in the same house all her life, never really leaving the house. “Our lives are over, aren’t they?” she asks Vanya several times. She is almost paralyzed by her circumstances until she comes alive for a costume party, to which Masha has invited her siblings. Laurie Dawn adds just the right elements of tragedy and comedy to her character Sonia. Credits include Off-Broadway: Strictly Personal; Regional highlights: Last Of The Red Hot Lovers (New Harmony); Good People (Public Theatre); Always… Patsy Cline (Ivoryton Playhouse – Broadway World Nomination); Faith Healer (Riverside Theatre – Broadway World nomination), and several productions of Steel Magnolias; Television: Boardwalk Empire, Law & Order: Svu and Broad City; and Film: The Adjustment Bureau, Revolutionary Road and 8:46: A 9/11 Tribute Film.

Instead of “I am a seagull,” (from Chekov’s The Seagull), Sonia repeats, “I am a wild turkey,” which brings laughs and lightens the heavier mood.

After a long opening scene, largely filled with doom and gloom, while Vanya and Sonia discuss their situation, we are introduced to Cassandra, the cleaning lady.  Cassandra offers more comic relief with her zany predictions of the future that oddly come true. And then, with a surprise visit, in walks Masha, the sibling who has been out in the world living life as a successful actress, with her latest boyfriend Spike. At first it seems as if Masha has returned to attend a costume party at a nearby house, where Dorothy Parker lived and committed suicide. Then, we learn that Masha wants to sell the family house and has contacted a realtor; she has been supporting her siblings by paying for all the house bills all these years while Vanya and Sonia have not contributed anything since they aren’t employed.

The character of Masha is brilliantly acted by Sean Young, a famous actress playing a famous actress. We all know Young from films such as Bladerunner, Dune, Stripes, Wall Street, No Way Out, A Kiss Before Dying, Fatal Instinct and Ace Ventura. Young has numerous film, television, and stage credits to her name including Starlight with Toni Tenille and Hinton Battle at the Wilshire Theatre in Los Angeles. The most enjoyable Masha scenes are when she insists that her family and boyfriend dress for the costume party as characters from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs since she has chosen to go as Snow White. Vanya prefers to go as Doc instead of Grumpy, but plays along with her wishes, while Sonia rebels and refuses to go as Dopey. Instead, she dresses up as The Evil Queen as portrayed by actress Maggie Smith on her way to the Oscars. In the end, Sonia steals the show at the costume party with people not recognizing Masha as Snow White and instead thinking she is a hummel figure or Little Bo Peep. Sonia even meets a man named Joe, who later asks her for a date.

Laurie Dawn, Kevin Pariseau, and Sean Young in costume party attire. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

Laurie Dawn, Kevin Pariseau, and Sean Young in costume party attire. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

Another comedic  highlight is the reverse striptease by actor Stephen Mark Lukas who plays Spike, Masha’s boy toy of the moment who enters her life after her fifth marriage has failed. Lukas is fantastic as Spike. Credits include Broadway: The Book of Mormon; National Tour: Little Women: The Musical (Laurie); Regional: Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees (Goodspeed), Curly in Oklahoma!, Cable in South Pacific, George Musgrove in Little Me, Link Larkin in Hairspray, Marius in Les Miserables and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella starring Leslie Uggams; and Television: Gossip Girl.

The character of Cassandra played by Isabel Santiago once again lightens the mood that has darkened when Vanya and Sonia realize that Masha really plans to sell the house. She hangs up on the realtor who calls a few times. She creates a voodoo doll of Masha, attempting to convince her not to sell the house and the scenes she is in are convincing and entertaining. Santiago’s credits include Off-Broadway: Giant (Petra); First National Tour: In The Heights (Daniela); Regional: Giant, Little Shop Of Horrors (Audrey), Vanya, Sonia, Masha, Spike (Cassandra), Show Boat (Julie), West Side Story (Maria), And Guys And Dolls (Sarah Brown); Select New York Credits: If/Then (Cathy), Bizet’s Carmen(Micaela); and National TV: A Gifted Man, So You Think You Can Dance, Lopez Tonight.

Young and pretty Nina, portrayed by Megan Yelaney, attracts the attention of equally young and pretty Spike, but she also becomes friendly with Uncle Vanya, as she calls him, and convinces him to let her star as a molecule in a play he has been secretly writing. When Spike starts texting during the reading of the play, Masha is horrified and Vanya begins his monologue on present times. Yelaney’s credits include Regional: Godspell (Totem Pole), VSMS (Flat Rock), Memphis and Chasing the Song workshop (La Jolla), Jo in Little Women opposite Donna McKechnie, Beehive and Hair (TheatreZone-Florida).

The entire cast makes its Engeman debut under the admirable direction of Richard T. Dolce, the Producing Artistic Director at Engeman. The set by Jonathan Collins is wonderful.

Tickets are $59 and may be purchased by calling (631) 261-2900, going online at EngemanTheater.com, or by visiting the Engeman Theater Box Office at 250 Main Street, Northport.

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