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News Section: Arts and Entertainment

Asolo Triumphs with Back to Back Family Dramas

Published Wednesday, January 29, 2014 12:05 am

SARASOTA – Asolo Rep's production of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike gives audiences a slightly lighter take on family drama than Other Desert Cities, which opened at Asolo a few weeks prior (click here for review). The 2013 Tony Award Winner for Best Play is a thoughtful and at times hilarious work that successfully mines the drama-rich subject of family ties for moments each of us can relate to.


Peggy Roeder, Tyla Abercrumbie and Andrew Sellon

photo by Frank Atura

The play centers around Vanya and Sonia, adopted siblings who have spent most of their adult lives caring for their infirm parents, while their sister Masha was enjoying a successful career in B-movies -- while also covering the family expenses. The parents, teachers who named their three adopted children after characters in Chekhov stories, have since passed on, but Vanya and Sonia remain at a standstill, living at the family home on a stipend provided by their glamorous sister, who they clearly resent.

Masha comes home to Bucks County, Pennsylvania for a weekend and brings along her young lover Spike, an empty-headed beefcake who aspires to be an actor. Hilarity ensues. The stunted brother and sister are worried that in light of their parent's passing, Masha, a self-obsessed narcissist driven by her insecurities, won't want to continue footing their bills.


Jefferson McDonald and Anne Marie Cusson

photo by Frank Atura

The play requires precision timing and Director Peter Amster has the cast firing on all cylinders. Andrew Sellon called to mind David Hyde Pierce in his role as Vanya (even before I later learned that Pierce played the role on Broadway, earning a Tony nomination last year), blending prim and proper passivity with crack physical comedy. Anne Marie Cusson is delightful as Masha, effortlessly giving the character the larger than life presence the role requires.

Peggy Roeder steals several scenes as the frumpy Sonia, and wows the audience with her hilarious Maggie Smith impersonations when a costume party provides an opportunity for the 52 year-old spinster to break out of her shell. The talented Tyla Abercrumbie delivers another excellent supporting role for Asolo as psychic housekeeper Cassandra, who lights up the stage with her Greek-inspired warnings of doom.

Jefferson McDonald is almost over the top as Spike, giving a somewhat cartoonish performance that ultimately proves necessary to balance the manic, grievance-filled soliloquies each character seems to give in turn throughout the play. Tori Grace Hines is charming as the aspiring-actress Nina, who is visiting family next door and is awestruck by the chance to meet her "favorite actress."

Strong acting across the board brings Durang's excellent work to life, making for a very enjoyable evening of top-shelf theater. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs through April 13. Visit Asolo's website for more information.


photo by Frank Atura


Dennis Maley is TBT's editor and featured political columnist. His regular column appears every Thursday and Sunday. He occasionally reviews local theater purely out of love for the art form and claims no particular expertise beyond his considerable experience as an audience member. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. He can be reached at can also follow Dennis on Facebook.

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