Riverfront Theater Company takes comedic look at sibling rivalry | TribLIVE.com
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Riverfront Theater Company takes comedic look at sibling rivalry

Candy Williams
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Courtesy of Riverfront Theater Company
Cast members of Riverfront Theater Company’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” Nov. 7-9 and 14-16 include (from left) Randi Ippolito, Jamie McDonald, Emily Welsh and Randy Berner.

Riverfront Theater Company is gearing up for its 2020 season by treating audiences to a special production of Christopher Durang’s comedy, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” for two weekends in November.

The comedy, which won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, is being presented Nov. 7-9 and 14-16 at the company’s new home in Aspinwall Riverfront Park.

Directed by Rogella Jaoude, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” explores the relationships among adult siblings, two of whom live together in rural Bucks County in eastern Pennsylvania.

Only their beautiful and successful actress sister Masha (played by Emily Welsh) has ventured from home, opting for a lifestyle that her brother Vanya (Randy Berner) and their sister Sonia (Randi Ippolito) can only dream about.

Sparks will fly

When Masha pays a surprise visit home with her much-younger companion and aspiring actor Spike (Jamie McDonald), she sets off an explosion of unexplored feelings from the family members.

Welsh of North Huntingdon is having fun playing the almost-past-her-prime movie star returning to her family home.

“Masha describes herself as ‘monstrous, but lovable monstrous,’ which sums up this character perfectly in my opinion,” she says. “She has qualities that are very hard to like, so there are moments where it’s very hard for audiences to get behind her. I’ve enjoyed breaking down her hilarious yet often cruel antics and finding the relatable person underneath. Just like all of us, Masha wants to be heard, understood and loved.”

Welsh says the comedy will have theatergoers “still laughing as they leave, hopefully feeling a little lighter than before, and maybe even feeling grateful their family is a little different from this one.”

McDonald describes his character, Spike, as “a little over-the-top at times and is – without giving away too much – a little obsessed with his body, so I’ve had to cut back on the desserts these past six weeks to prepare.”

Berner of Monroeville suggests that audience members “brush up on their Chekov,” as the play contains jokes and references to Russian playwright Anton Chekov, but if they don’t, “there are still plenty of laughs to enjoy. This disjointed family functions on our stage hilariously.”

McDonald says “Vanya and Sonia” is a must-see play for those that are unfamiliar with it.

Classic comedy

“It’s classic comedy and is affecting on several levels,” he says. “There’s a lot to love – and to learn – from the characters in this show.”

McDonald last appeared in Riverfront’s production of “Almost, Maine” and helped directed the company’s summer high school musical, “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

Welsh recently performed in Arcade Comedy Theater’s “Bubble Boy the Musical,” Pittsburgh New Works Festival with Hambones Theater Company in “The Ringmistress” and “Titanic: The Musical” with Split Stage Productions.

Berner’s credits include “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Of Mice and Men” for Prime Stage and productions with several other regional theater companies.

Completing the cast are Meredith Kocur as Nina, the niece who lives next door, and Noelle Pollock as Cassandra, the cleaning lady. Natalka Harris, a student at Fox Chapel Area High School, is student director.

Riverfront’s 2020 season will feature “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” Feb. 12-15, “Proof” March 19-21 and 28-30, “Back to the 80s” Aug. 5-9 and “Urinetown” Nov. 5-7 and 12-14.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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