Bendites are getting the chance to see some world-class plays performed locally this year. Tis the season for award-winning productions in Central Oregon. Cascade Theatrical Company is presenting the Tony Award-winning play, "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," this month, and the play runs through March 26.
Central Oregon has excellent theatrical choices all across its scattered miles, but Bend in particular is going through a bit of a theater boom. With CTC, 2nd Street Theater, Volcanic Theatre Pub, Bend Experimental Art Theatre, Lonely Fish Productions, Lurking Squirrel Productions, Dionysus Presents and a few others all producing at least two or three (and sometimes seven or eight) shows a season, there is always a production happening somewhere. The question has stopped being whether there is something to see theatrically and has instead become one of which to choose.
"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" is an excellent choice for an audience's theatrical buck. It's written by Christopher Durang, one of the best American playwrights of the last half-century, and directed by one of Bend's finest theatrical minds. Juliah Rae has been behind some of the greatest productions Bend has seen over the last several years including CTC's "Rabbit Hole," "The Glass Menagerie" and "All My Sons." She takes work that is highly difficult to produce at a community theater level, with complexity of theme and character, and creates true theater magic each and every time.
Her work here is no different. "Vanya" tells the story of Vanya and Sonya, a brother and sister who stayed home to take care of their ailing parents for 15 years. Even though their parents have passed years earlier, they still live in their childhood house, growing old watching the birds come in and complaining about their lots in life. Their sister, Masha, is a movie star and pays for their living expenses and the mortgage on the house. When these three siblings collide with Masha's dim new suitor, Spike, and a beautiful young ingénue from next door named Nina, as well as Cassandra, a prophecy spewing housekeeper, all their worlds will change.
Durang's script could have easily become a bedroom farce with lots of slamming doors and pitched voices, but his interest here lies in the characters. Vanya has discovered he is gay but not really planning on doing anything about it; Sonya is depressed and constantly reminding everyone of her adoption as a child, Masha is aging and upset that she is being offered grandmother roles; Cassandra may be mentally ill at best; Nina just wants to grow as a person and performer; and Spike likes sex and being handsome.
The broadness of these characteristics could have made for a very cornball night of theater, but Durang loves all of his characters too much to allow them to become stereotypes. Whether they're feeling pain, contentment or something in between, Juliah Rae's direction, Durang's script and the performances never let us off the hook easily.
Each performer has plenty of excellent moments throughout the show, but Lilli Ann-Linford Foreman and Richard Choate (as Sonia and Vanya, respectively) are the broken, beating hearts of the show. Their lived-in chemistry is very powerful and they both have monologues that are absolute show-stoppers. Foreman's in particular is incredible because it's a one-sided phone conversation and her reactions to a caller we never see or hear feel incredibly authentic.
Also of special mention is Izzy O'Keefe, a Disney princess come to life as Nina, exuding a palpable and infectious joy across the stage.
"Vanya" is a very funny show, while also being a thoughtful and profound one. In a town with so much theater to choose from, this play is an easy choice.
"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike"
March 17-26; March 20 at 2 p.m. All other shows 7:30 p.m.
Cascades Theatrical Company, 148 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend