Saturday, February 23, 2019     Volume: 19, Issue: 51

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on July 3rd, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 18 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 18

PCPA's 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike' is the good kind of hot mess

By Rebecca Rose

Good news. You don't have to be an expert on the work of Russian playwright Anton Pavlovich Chekhov to enjoy the Pacific Conservatory Theatre's (PCPA) Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. But a little inside baseball knowledge won't hurt either. 

The play, written by Christopher Durang in 2012, tells the story of an oddball family living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The play opens with Sonia (Anne Guynn) and Vanya (Peter S. Hadres) having a rather depressing argument and exploring the depths of their ennui in the home of their dead parents. 

Vanya and Sonia have lived here for more than a decade, forgoing their own lives to care for their dying parents as their sister Masha (Polly Firestone Walker) ran off to Hollywood to become a successful-ish movie star. Now passed Hollywood Death Age for a woman (passed 40), Masha returns with her young lover Spike (Sam Bravo) in tow to drop a bomb on her family. Other than the titular characters, the play also features Cassandra (Annali Fuchs-Wackowski) who certainly lives up to her name, and Nina (Madison Shaheen), an aspiring actress who threatens Masha but finds a place in Sonia and Vanya's hearts. 

Annali Fuchs-Wackowski is a scene stealer as Cassandra, the tormented prophet with a penchant for voodoo, in PCPA’s production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.

The play is visually stunning. This is one of the absolute best stage sets I have ever seen in my life. The minute attention to detail is mind boggling. There are tiny props hidden in almost every nook and cranny of the set that speak to the characters' souls. A card table next to a stand with a push-button corded phone gives more away about Vanya and Sonia's frozen life than some of their monologues do.

The play is a comedy and definitely not one for children. Get ready for a few F-bombs and, of course, a lot of bawdy jokes about sex and sensuality. If you're shy about the human body, be warned: Bravo spends much of this play in little more than his underwear (it's all part of the joke). I, myself, had no problem with that at all and in fact encourage more of the same in future productions.

Fuchs-Wackowski is a scene stealer as the tormented prophet with a penchant for voodoo. I loved her energy and commitment to Cassandra's plotting and scheming. She's an actress who can embody a role beyond the written dialogue. She bends into the character with a searing physicality that shows great promise and undeniable talent.

Cherry orchard or not?
The Pacific Conservatory Theatre (PCPA) presents Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike running through July 7 at the Marian Theatre, 800 S. College Drive, Santa Maria, and July 12 through July 22 at the Solvang Festival Theater, 420 2nd St., Solvang. More info: (805) 922-8313.

Speaking of body (sorry), Bravo is more than just a handsome face. His Spike is simultaneously cocky and empathetic, like a puppy who poops on your living room floor and then falls asleep cuddling with a cat. You can't help but love him and that's because Bravo is determined to push back on the stereotypes of the role. He has a keen sense of when to pull back the beefcake and expose the lost boy inside, one who's looking for love and maybe just a small role in another HBO sequel.

The only weak points for me were in the material. Sometimes it felt like we were watching two good plays and one excellent one. The beginning of the first act is deceptively slow and the end of the second act is dreadfully schmaltzy for my taste. The beginning of the first act is a bit uneven (I think the forced Chekhov references create some imbalances in the character motivations). I didn't buy Sonia "pining" for Vanya (because, ew, gross) nor did I believe their angry cup throwing fits (maybe it might work later in the play, as we get to understand their angst more). I also rolled my eyes a bit at Vanya's meltdown over technology, which didn't seem in character at all and dragged on way too long, seeming more like a drunk uncle's Facebook rant than the musings of a brilliant yet ignored, gentle-hearted intellectual.

That being said, the middle of the play is a comic fireworks show. Between Guynn's dead-perfect, hilarious Maggie Smith impression to Walker's savage Snow White tantrum, it sails through with perfect timing and delivery. Once again, PCPA finds actors who harmonize well together, even if the material may be less than perfect in some places. 

And for the record, 10 or 11 trees is not an orchard. Sorry, Sonia.

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose is all about boxers over briefs. Contact her at

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