Absurdity and hilarity combine with poignancy, gloom and sadness in the lives of Mr. Durang’s quirky characters. Although a few names and certain plot moments are derived from some of the works of playwright, Anton Chekhov, this knowledge is not necessary for enjoyment of this solid production staged by the Scarborough Players.

Vanya and his adopted sister, Sonia, live an ordinary and quiet life in a lovely farmhouse in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania. They spend their mundane and routine days talking about how they take their coffee while they wait for the arrival of the blue heron each morning in the pond on the property. News that their movie star sister, Masha, will arrive shortly for a visit with some very important information to share brings further personal and emotional reactions. Masha brings Spike, her swaggering boy toy as a companion for this trip. We also meet the eccentric housekeeper, Cassandra, and nice girl and actress next door, Nina, who round out this collection of oddities.  An up and coming costume party changes the course of events in the lives of all these characters.

The three-quarter thrust stage of the Village Theatre works well in this production as we feel part of the action. Greg Nowlan’s set design of the simplistic façade of a farmhouse, complete with a suggestion of a winding staircase and wicker furniture, nicely hints of a quaint rustic country farm life where Vanya and Sonia escape under the radar of daily life.

Bodene Corbitt and Dave Corbitt’s musical soundscape will bring a most welcome smile to your face as we recognize family theme songs ranging from ‘I Love Lucy’ to ‘Leave it to Beaver’.  Anna Pallotta and Mary Nowlan’s costume design for the upcoming party range from the ridiculous to the absurd which adds to the fun of this play.  Darlene Thomas’ makeup and hair design effectively highlights the individual and unique character traits of the performers.

Pacing in this production is of utmost importance to maintain audience interest as the humour is biting, satiric caustic and sharp. It is a challenge for the actors and production team to ensure pacing never falters, and this production maintains it solidly. At this opening night performance, there was one moment where the audience thought it was intermission (and I did too even though I knew the script) as the scene change was just a tad too long.  I’m sure at the next performance the production team will rectify this momentary lapse.

Director Katherine Turner cares deeply about this story, these characters and this production, and it most definitely shows. She states in the programme how she and the actors found the joy inherent in the script (and they most certainly did) through the rehearsal process as some of the themes about regret and growing older, especially in the digital age, rear their heads periodically. I saw this play last winter in Port Perry and, in re-visiting this story, it reminded me how important it is for all humans to remain connected to each other no matter what life may throw at us whether it is silly, trivial or catastrophic.

L to R: Deborah Jarvis, Chip Thompson. Photo by Thomas Kowal

Chip Thompson (Vanya) and Deborah Jarvis (Sonia) are absolute treasures to watch on stage. They’ve captured quite honestly some odd character idiosyncrasies at the top of the show which set each other off in a bizarre manner yet make you shake your head in laughter and amusement. Conversely, Mr. Thompson and Ms. Jarvis show how strong actors they are. Pay close attention to the second act monologue Mr. Thompson delivers about the advent of technology in our relationships with others.  Nice work indeed.

There is a saying the eyes are the window to the soul, and Ms. Jarvis marvellously uses her eyes so touchingly which heightens the inherent sadness and gloom Sonia feels in her life. When a much-needed moment of happiness enters Sonia’s life in the second act, watch carefully how Ms. Jarvis uses her eyes to showcase growing excitement and eagerness. Again, nice work here.

Martha Breen as fading movie star Masha breezes gorgeously with great aplomb into the lives of her brother and adopted sister always anticipating the red-carpet treatment.  Masha behaves terribly and horribly around her siblings while she tries to make herself look better at their expense. Ms. Breen delivers a believable performance as a woman who may have to recognize that perhaps she might be the cause of the problems in her many relationships. As hyper-sexed boy toy Spike, Holm Bradwell offers a daring performance in risk-taking on many levels. Spike has obviously had to go the distance on the casting couch to get as far as he has at this point, and Mr. Bradwell obviously relishes these moments where he gets to revel in heightened sexual teasing and taunting.

Eccentric housekeeper Cassandra (Carolyn Williamson) adds a dash of zany flavour to this mixture especially in the second act as she tries to ward off spirits away from the farmhouse. Cassandra truly does care for this family. As Nina, Robyn Deverett appears to be the only sane and rational next-door neighbour, but her performance is quite lovely especially in Act 2 with Vanya and the written play he presents to the others.

In the programme, director Katherine Turner writes, “We still need to ask what it means to feel connected, while the challenge is to keep the pace [even] underneath all of the artful silliness.”  Scarborough Players have presented a touching production of Mr. Durang’s play which becomes an important reminder of the need always to feel connected to others.

Produced by Scarborough Players and Katherine Turner
Opened: March 2, 2018
Performance dates: March 8 – 10, 15, 16 at 8 pm. March 11 and 17 at 2 pm.

For more Theatre with Joe, see his column on slowcity.ca