Friday, February 10, 2017

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Repertory Philippines)

Vanya (Michael Williams), Sonia (Roselyn Perez), and Masha (Cherie Gil) are siblings with a truckload of unresolved issues. Brother Vanya and adopted sister Sonia have watched their lives pass them by, taking care of their ill parents and putting up with the heartache of witnessing them slowly fade into death. Now well past their prime, they spend every single day wondering what to do with their lives, interrupted from time to time by their eagerness to stalk a blue bird landing on their pond. Their only company is the housekeeper who comes once a week. Aside from cleaning the house, she is also an abundant source of unsolicited prophecies warning them about everything, from Sonia breaking the morning coffee cup to Masha selling the house. When movie star sister Masha comes back home with her lover Spike (Joaquin Valdes), an aspiring actor whose biggest achievement in life is almost being cast in Entourage 2, feathers are ruffled as the three are left with no choice but to come to terms with their grudges against one another, culminating in a costume party that will change their lives for good.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike deals with the theme of family relations, sibling rivalry to be very specific. Such subject matter is not a rarity when it comes to onstage narratives, which is why in order to stand out, you must present a good show by virtue of your characters and dialogues. This play achieves that.

Vanya is a middle-aged gay man stuck with his whiny sister who may or may not be harboring a crush on him, forever whining about the fact that she is adopted. Appearing onstage together in the first few minutes, you will mistake the duo for a married couple whose relationship has gone sour through the years. However, it doesn’t really take long for their real connection as siblings to be revealed.

Given how the two have the most scenes together, it would be a good thing for the actors to have good rapport. Fortunately, Williams and Perez have it. They are so convincing, you might believe that they have been enduring each other living at that set for decades. They both have their shining moments. Vanya’s is his outburst while presenting his play. Sonia has way more. That unexpected phone call is a riot, and she also gets to steal Masha’s thunder with her on point Maggie Smith impression.

Gil as Masha is perfect for her role. As an aging washed-up actress weighing her options, there is a certain glamor to her that you just can’t dismiss. Perhaps she owes it to her status as one of the country’s most respected actresses. This woman has been acting for decades and she has remained a class act ever since, someone who exudes elegance without even trying. She is no stranger to theater either, but this production just scored plus points for casting her because she is, in fact, a movie star. Although as opposed to Masha, she still gets many projects left and right. It must have been fun for her to play a role that is too close for comfort yet still so different from her real-life persona.

Valdes as Spike was enjoyable to watch. We can argue that it is almost the same case for every character who is just so dense. It would have been easier for him to fall into the trap of just playing yet another dumb model stereotype, but he portrayed Spike in such a way that his motivations are still evident for you to grasp. You even get the feeling that perhaps everything is just an act, a means for him to con the siblings. They don’t go there, but the thought that it could have taken that direction does add some thrill.

Straight plays can be a breath of fresh air for musical fans who want to take a break from all the song and dance numbers. We are not pitting one genre against another here. All we’re trying to say is that stripping off the musical component, there isn’t much to distract you from paying attention to the central theme, coursed mainly through the dialogue among the characters. Watching a straight play is like listening to a conversation about life. The eccentricities of the characters delivering those lines are just an added bonus.

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