PHP's 43rd season wraps up with 'quality' comedy

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Preparing to close out The Pumphouse Players' 43rd season, Suzanne Husting believes patrons are "in for a treat" with "Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike." Penned by Christopher Durang, the comedy will open June 8 at 8 p.m. at The Legion Theatre, 114 W. Main St. in Cartersville.

"I became interested in this play when it first hit Broadway a few years ago, interested enough to request a working script from the production," said Husting, the comedy's director. "The show when it debuted was tailored around the talents of David Hyde Pierce (Vanya) and Sigourney Weaver (Masha), with the irrepressible Billy Magnussen as Spike. It has taken us a concerted effort to corral the production rights, and I'm thrilled to bring this story to the PHP stage.

"It's a great play to wrap up our 43rd season. We started off with 'Beer for Breakfast,' a comedy featuring three high school buddies in full-fledged midlife crisis. Our [season] comes full circle with a brother and sister, Vanya and Sonia, who have devoted the last 15 years of their lives to caring for their aging parents while their other sister, Masha, has gone on to international fame and stardom in the movies."

Following its opening performance, “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike” will be presented June 9, 15 and 16 at 8 p.m. and June 10 at 3 p.m.

"Now, following the parents' passing, Masha has decided to sell the old family home, where her siblings have lived, and this has thrown them all into a dilemma," Husting said. "What will Vanya and Sonia do, with no home and no job skills? How can Masha not sell the house, which is a drain on her income? How is this a comedy?

"With the addition of a housekeeper who channels psychic messages, a 'boy toy' who is Masha's 'plus one' for the weekend and the introduction of a lovely young lady who just happens to be visiting nearby, the play is full of quirky twists and humor. Audiences, adult audiences, are in for a treat when they come to see this show. The author, Christopher Durang, employs absurdist humor in a very deft reality check of our modern world compared to the one most baby boomers grew up in."

Under Husting's direction, the cast of "Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike" will include Tom Owens as Vanya; Ann-Marie Thomas as Sonia; Donna Young as Masha; Craig Popham as Spike; Michele Elliott as Cassandra; and Ashleigh Woodall as Nina.

"I liked the play because I felt it was a quality comedy," Owens said. "There are some outright belly laughs but also a lot of more subtle humor. It is not as nutty as some of Christopher Durang's other work, which can get quite far out on the fringe. I tend to like funny, believable situations more than just purely insane ones, even if they are funny.

"The part of Vanya is a bit of a departure for me. He's a low key gay man in his late 50s without a lot of energy, who's more or less mired in a daily routine that is taking him nowhere, but he's beginning to dread his arrival there. I like the challenge of making this guy appealing and playing him realistically. I want to avoid anything real campy with him. Normally you wouldn't think much of someone who's spent his entire adult life at home. I'd like to play Vanya so that the audience maybe doesn't identify with him but at least understands him and sees his good qualities."

Calling the cast "tremendous," the PHP veteran has enjoyed working with his fellow thespians as well as fine-tuning his character's rant-filled monologue.

"Toward the end of the show, Vanya erupts in a rant that I think many older people will appreciate," he said. "It is way out of character for him and yet it makes sense — or I hope to portray it that way. Getting this monologue down and making it work has been my most enjoyable experience with this production.

"However, the rest of the cast is tremendous and working with them has been wonderful. They've made me laugh at literally every rehearsal. You'd think after dozens of rehearsals hearing the same jokes you'd be sick of it, but not so with this crew."

Tickets for "Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike" are $18 for general admission. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://pumphouseplayers.com or call 770-387-2610.