Vol. 15, No. 09 – Jan 26 – Feb 8, 2022 – A View from House Seats

by Shirley Lorraine

Ojai Stage Fills with Layers of Life

Isn’t it frustrating when something (or someone) comes along to throw a proverbial wrench into your nice, quiet, predictable life? Suddenly your world is in chaos, and no one seems to know how to cope with the smallest things.

Such is the premise presented in Christopher Durang’s 2013 Tony-winning Best Play, Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike now playing at the Ojai Art Center Theater.

Siblings Vanya (Peter Schreiner) and adopted sister Sonia (Laurie Walters) have been living in the family home they grew up in, after both of their parents have passed on. Mom and Dad were both college professors, so they named their children after characters from the works of Anton Chekhov. Vanya and Sonia stayed on, each bemoaning the life they allowed to pass them by. Each feels unfulfilled but reluctant to leave the comfort of their routines.

The action that follows has been described as “Chekhov in a blender” by director Taylor Kasch. Vanya and Sonia’s world implodes as older sister Masha (Tracey Williams Sutton), now a successful stage and movie actor, arrives at the ancestral home to announce plans to sell the property. She brings with her Spike (James James), a young, studly actor clearly beneath her station. Together they shake up the staid existence led by Vanya and Sonia, leading to a series of emotional Strum und Drang monologues.

The two siblings’ completely relatable relationship of I-love-you, I-hate-you resonates loudly as the play rises to a crescendo. Along the way, Boomers and beyond enjoy numerous references to “the good old days” of our youth. There was a plethora of knowing nods in the audience on opening night.

In the direct center of the swirling emotional storm enters Cassandra (Cynthia Killion), the occasional maid and full-time wacko whose psychic pronouncements are a portent of things to come. Seemingly random utterings drift into realizations that become meaningful to the others as events unfold.

A sweet, naïve, girl visiting next door named Nina (newcomer Beltane Howden) becomes part of the character mix, adding to the layers of emotions the family experiences. An aspiring actress herself, Nina is enthralled by Vanya’s play writing skills, eagerly participating in a “reading” that quickly evolves into a tirade by Vanya about the public’s current lack of shared experiences.

There are many layers to this piece that seem to build from the very depths of each character’s soul. The situations are, at the core, recognizable, relatable and highly amusing. The actors are fascinating to watch as they embody not only the characters on the surface, but also the “everyman” quality of each one individually and as unit. The performances are mesmerizing.

It is always a joy to watch actors enjoy attacking their roles with abandon. Director Kasch has assembled a tight ensemble for our enjoyment.

VSMS runs Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through February 13. Socially distanced seating is assigned, and masks are required. Some strong language.

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