Chekov’s siblings’ revelry a tour de farce

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TO Vanya by SuzyBernstein (1) . Making merry: (back, from left) Emilie Owen, Louise Saint-Clare, Michael Richard, Bo Petersen and, front, Richard Gau and Kensiwe Tshabalala.

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE

DIRECTOR: Bobby Heaney

CAST: Michael Richard, Bo Petersen, Louise Saint-Clare, Richard Gau, Emilie Owen, Kensiwe Tshabalala

VENUE: Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre

DATES: Until August 10

RATING: ***

AS THE title suggests, Chekov leads the way into this family romp where two siblings, Vanya (Richard) and Sonia (Petersen) are having morning coffee in their childhood home where they seem trapped having cared for their parents until their death – and then just hung on.

A visit from their famous movie star sibling, Masha (Saint-Clare), is imminent and their clairvoyant housekeeper Cassandra (Tshabalala), warns them that this doesn’t bode well. She plans to sell their family home, but no one ever believes her. While they were looking after their ageing parents, she was making money to keep the family afloat and this arrangement seems to be coming to a close.

She enters with toy-boy Spike (Gau) in tow with an invite to a fancy dress party which she will attend as Disney’s Snow White with the rest of the entourage as her dwarfs – or that’s the plan in her self-obsessed head.

But first there’s a quick (although not a word that’s part of this playwright’s agenda) exploration of the different characters with the young man in a state of undress in a flash as he plans to wade in the pond where the siblings have been waiting for the blue heron to make an appearance – while on the other side of the property, between 10 and 11 cherry trees become a hot topic of discussion.

Playwright Christopher Durang has fun playing with and poking around in Chekov’s despair while dealing with the dashed dreams and hopeless aspirations of the ageing siblings who battle with rivalry and revelry in equal measure. But if this sounds dark and sombre, it’s not.

And you don’t even have to know your Chekov to share in the laughter. It adds another layer and even if you only recognise the odd reference, that’s more than enough to get a smile as the cast have fun trying to tell their story in rambling if raucous fashion.

They’re a motley bunch trying to find their future which seems daunting if you listen to the dire predictions of the housekeeper who has her finger on the pulse yet is never taken seriously.

Stealing the show with a performance that is precariously balanced yet soars rather than teeters, Tshabalala’s delightfully dramatic Cassandra holds the family close to her heart which is in the right place.

Richard plays the gentle, gay Vanya with throwaway charm as he tries to keep everyone smiling, while Petersen’s glass-half-empty Sonia has some splendid moments as she grabs her sister’s thunder at her first party in 20 years.

Saint-Claire has the most difficult task of playing the OTT movie star which makes it tough to keep it real rather than steering it into full-blown farce. It’s a delicate balance which she doesn’t always manage to hold while her much too young lover, as played by Gau, is all show and no tell which is exactly what is required.

As the young Nina, Owen plays her with an innocence that’s disarming.

It’s an intriguing concoction as the playwright wriggles wittily between comic and serious comment on topics like change, family, delusion, self-pity and more.

From the start when you are almost bullied into this absurdly cheery Chekovian landscape, it’s intriguing and the cast are game to tackle an uneven text that has many moments.

For my money, I would have preferred comedy that keeps it real rather than pushing the farcical aspects which don’t sit comfortably with the more serious monologues dotted throughout.


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