The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday January 22nd


“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” brings theatric hilarity to PRC

PlayMaker's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike"


PlayMakers Repertory Company’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” delivered high hilarity and flamboyant theatrics, officially opening the company’s main stage season with belly laughs and a standing ovation.

The play, written by Christopher Durang, blends classical elements from the works of playwright Anton Chekhov with a witty and energetic farce, blurring the line between comedic romp and absurdist drama.

Staged in Paul Green Theatre with a single set and a mere six actors, the play presents a humorous view of a despondent, middle-aged brother and sister who are forced to re-examine their lives when their movie star sister returns home with plans to sell the family estate.

From the start, the clever writing draws the audience in, creating a near instant connection with the characters and their lives. Each scene is interspersed with a combination of dry wit and tomfoolery, keeping the humor paced in such a way that every joke has time to land without impeding the play’s flow.

It should also be noted that the intertextuality of the production added a variety of jokes and innuendos the audience couldn’t get enough of. Whether referencing Chekhov’s works or poking fun at community theater, the addition of these elements intensified the connection between audience and ensemble.

Every member of the play’s cast was a bright light in their own regard, with each character interjecting levity into the story. They were able to play off each other in a natural and charismatic way, adding to the intensity of certain relationships and making the jokes land all the better. Of particular note was Jeffrey Blair Cornell, who played the sardonic and wistful brother, Vanya.

Throughout the play, Vanya acts as a kind of straight man against the more impetuous, theatrical expositions of his family and friends. He often moves at a more relaxed pace, tossing out sarcastic quips at the other character’s outlandish antics. Cornell adeptly took a back seat to other, zanier personas when necessary, but did so without detracting from his character’s overall presence or underplaying his relevance in any scene.

When Vanya finally erupts near the play’s conclusion and goes on a tirade about nostalgia and change, Cornell demonstrated a powerfully dynamic shift in tone. Oscillating between comedic critique and doleful longing, he further showcases Vanya’s personal struggle while keeping the audience chuckling.

Where the production seemed to run into issues was in the amount of content packed into certain scenes. While the acting was impressive and the dialogue clever, some of the jokes and character lamentations would start to feel overdrawn, often losing some of their impact as they were carried too far.

Regardless of these minor problems, PlayMakers; “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” blended mirthful and optimistic overtones with an intriguing look into the absurdity of life and family. As the show closed and lights faded over the three siblings, the sound of the audience’s laughter was matched only by their applause.

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The Daily Tar Heel for December 1, 2021

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