'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike': An all-star family feud
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the comedic play that opens Repertory Philippines' 2017 season and its 50th anniversary, has got more going for it than a chockfull of references to the despondent characters, dreary settings, and poignant stories of Anton Chekhov.
“You don’t need to know Chekov to enjoy it,” said acclaimed award-winning director and actor Bart Guingona. “After seeing this and laughing hard, you’re going to want to read Chekov.”
That's because Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike has all the sassy and biting 21st century humor that won writer Christopher Durang the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play. It also provides a spicy and sweet counterpoint to its dour Chekov-inspired characters.
More than all that, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike has a stellar cast that performs in sync, like a harmonious loving family – the complete opposite of the dysfunctional and neurotic siblings, lovers, ingenues, and fortunetellers they play.
Cherie Gil, Michael Williams, and Rosalyn Perez play Masha, Vanya, and Sonia, respectively – 3 siblings from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Durang's real-life hometown. They were named after characters from Chekov's play by parents who were were both theater enthusiasts and professors. They even grew up in a house amid a cherry orchard, as in Chekov's play. But the siblings couldn't be more different from each other.
Sonia, an adopted child who constantly bemoans this fact, is in love with the erudite Vanya, who is gay. Both are unemployed and unmarried after a lifetime sacrificed caring for their elderly parents afflicted with Alzheimer's. Masha, for her part, has become a successful Hollywood star who pays the bills back home.
Vanya and Sonia's uneventful and unfulfilling lives are rocked when Masha – after the failure of her 5th marriage, the plateauing of her career, and the onset of a midlife crisis – comes home with her current lover, hunky aspiring actor Spike (Joaquin Valdes). Adding to the turmoil is the aptly named Cassandra (Naths Everett), the fortune-telling maid whom no one believes; and Nina (Mica Pineda), the neighbor's niece, an aspiring actress, and the ingenue whom Spike desires, Masha envies, and Vanya pities.
There couldn't be a more apt play celebrating Repertory Philippines' 50th anniversary than a 21st-century comedy about a family named after 19th-century stage characters. In real life, the play's all-star cast are so humorously starstruck themselves, they can't help gush about each other.
Cherie Gil confided: “I owe it to Michael and Bart, because I put them through those breakdowns. Michael directed me in Master Class, and at the same time, Bart directed me in Full Gallop, and working with these two amazing artists, and who have turned out to be good friends of mine, whom I highly respect, I just felt that it would be a fantastic project to do together, and a chance to work together."
She added, "And I thought, hey, it’s time, you know, after doing Arbol de Fuego, which is an adaptation of Chekov’s Cherry Orchard, we thought this would be the perfect next play to do. ”
Gil also confessed her admiration for Perez. “I’ve seen Ms Roselyn Perez perform in Normal Heart for the first time, and I’ve heard how elusive an actress Roselyn is and I’ve never had a chance or the honor to have seen her before until then. These are thespians of theater and icons in the theater world, and I’ve always wanted so much to learn how.”
She also relished seeing her co-stars play their part: “Michael had 4 pages of monologue, I can now sit back and gloat, 'Ha ha ha, your turn.' I’m like, in awe every time I watch the rehearsals and how they just get right into it.”
“And of course, at the same time, get a chance to play opposite a young man and touch a man’s body. How often do you get that, right? I’ve never had it in soaps with a leading man, because a bitch doesn’t get the man,” Gil added, referring to Joaquin Valdez.
Valdez said in jest: “Bart would want me to say that for a good part of the show, I am practically naked. That’s really why he casted me, not my resumé or my previous work.”
“Forget the talent, we need your abs,” Guingona chimed in. “And he's so articulate,” purred a feline Cherie Gil as she looked over to Valdez.
“Ever since I was a kid, it was anything theater that meant Repertory Philippines. When I was 8 years old, I tried to audition for Lés Miserablés,” revealed Valdez.
The bubbly and youthful Mica Pineda inadvertently revealed her director's age when she blurted, “I’ve been a fan of Bart Guingona ever since I was 14. It’s in my bucket list to work with him and work with all of these actors.”
She noted, “This will be my third production with Repertory. My first play was with Miguel last year, and it really feels like a family."
The love and admiration between these fine actors are palpable offstage. Onstage, they promise acerbic wit, poignant humor, and candid hilarity. It's all in the family. – Rappler.com
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike will be staged from January 20 to February 12 at the OnStage Theater in Greenbelt 1, Makati City.
Writer, graphic designer, and business owner Rome Jorge is passionate about the arts. Formerly the Editor-in-Chief of asianTraveler Magazine, Lifestyle Editor of The Manila Times, and cover story writer for MEGA and Lifestyle Asia Magazines, Rome Jorge has also covered terror attacks, military mutinies, and mass demonstrations as well as reproductive health, gender equality, climate change, HIV/AIDS and other important issues. He is also the proprietor of Strawberry Jams Music Studio.