PROVO — There’s a new theatre company in town. An Other Theater Company is peeking over the horizon of the Provo theatre scene and, from seeing their first production, the company has a bright future ahead of it.
Provo is a tough town for theatre companies. Provo audiences are conservative in their views, their time and their money, so kudos to Kacey Spadafora, Taylor Jack Nelson, Bryce Lloyd Fueston, Katrina Luthi, and Meggan Spadafora—the artistic staff of An Other Theater Company—for their courage in bringing smart, sophisticated theatre to Provo. Let’s hope Provo is ready for it. The company has a great theatre space in the Provo Town Centre Mall (with pews from an old LDS chapel, no doubt, upholstered in a fine harvest gold) that they use well and effectively.
The company’s first offering is the Tony Award-winning play by Christopher Durang, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, an interesting choice that An Other executes nicely. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a wonderfully, crazy, absurd comedy that revolves around three middle-aged siblings, Masha, Vanya and Sonia. Vanya and Sonia live together in the family homestead. Having spent 15 years taking care of their elderly parents, who are now dead, the two have never gotten jobs and just sit around the house and . . . well, wait for the blue herron to appear at the pond. Or complain about being adopted or alone or lonely. Or gripe about the third sibling Masha, their movie star sister at the cusp of that hill she’ll soon be going over. Named by their Chekov-loving professor parents, the siblings—like their namesakes—argue, complain, and contemplate whether their “10 or 11 cherry trees” constitute a cherry orchard.
The play is a wonderful mishmash of family dynamics and dysfunctions, sprinkled with homages to Anton Chekov’s most famous plays from The Cherry Orchard, to Uncle Vanya to The Three Sisters to The Seagull. Anyone familiar with any of these Chekhovian works will enjoy extra smiles and giggles. But for other audience members, the show is still a great night of fun.
The cast is strong, though at times uneven, with a mix of young and experienced actors. But all deliver. Brett Merritt as Vanya is a stand out, with an ease to his acting that is a pleasure to watch. He has a smooth comic style and never pushes a line, which is vital in this kind of play. His character is dry and articulate and rather sad, but Merritt never let’s his Vanya get maudlin or sentimental. This is true even in his second act tirade as he longs for an idealistic past of watching Ozzie and Harriet, or Davy Crockett. They were corny, but Americans all shared those memories. Vanya mourns that now everyone is in their electronic devices, separate and disconnected, a viewpoint that rings all too true.
Cathy Ostler as Sonia and Brooke Wilkins as Masha must also be singled out. It took me a while to warm up to Sonia because she is a woman full of self-pity who does nothing about it (so Chekovian). Her jealousy and envy of her sister Masha is the only thing that moves her to any sort of action. After a costume party, Masha is incensed because Sonia “upstaged” her. Delighted, Ostler makes Sonia refreshingly happy, and clearly Sonia had fun. She then gets a phone call from a man she met at the party who wants to take her out. The phone conversation that ensues is lovely, and Ostler handles it with grace and humor. I found myself drawn in and rooting for her to accept the date. Wilkins made Masha a perfectly entitled movie star. Married five times, Masha returns home with at vacant and over-sexed young man, Spike, perfectly played by Tyler Fox. Masha economically supports the family, and Wilkins shows that the character walks the fine line between self-indulgence and self-doubt. Masha’s a tough character to figure out, but Wilkins brings warmth to her narcissism that pulled me in.
Fox as Spike bravely wanders around the set in this underpants is funny, charming, and lustful. Kaitlin Lemon as Nina, the young next-door neighbor and aspiring actress does well. Likewise, Kiersten Zundel as Cassandra, spews dire prophecies that no one believes is best she is not “prophesying.” For me, most of her crazy prophecies were pushed rather than just laid out there for us to absorb and the others to dismiss.
Directed with a deft hand by Kacey Spadafora, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is really a morality play or, at the very least, a social commentary in disguise as a light comedy. By the end you’veI had fallen in love with these characters as I watched their transformations from petty siblings, to human beings who appreciative of one another.