Mindy Lucas

Review: ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ makes Lean Ensemble theater company one to watch

Lean Ensemble’s latest production “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” runs through May 8 at the Hilton Head Preparatory School Main Street Theatre.
Lean Ensemble’s latest production “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” runs through May 8 at the Hilton Head Preparatory School Main Street Theatre. thefrenchguy photography

So much works in Lean Ensemble’s latest production — “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” — that it’s hard to single out any one particular element over another.

The Christopher Durang play, about sibling rivalry, change and a sense of being disconnected, opened Thursday night at the Hilton Head Preparatory School Main Street Theatre on Hilton Head.

But two scenes in particular stand out.

The first, only in order of appearance, is when the perpetually self-pitying Sonia, played by the amazing Jenny Zmarzly, takes the proverbial leap of faith and finally agrees to something.

I won’t spoil what that something is here, but suffice it to say it’s a charming if not nearly tear-producing scene in which a woman finally takes action on her own behalf after a lifetime of inaction.

The second scene, involving the loveable but ever-adrift Vanya, played brilliantly by the equally amazing Jim Stark, is a breathtaking monologue on everything from a loss of innocence to alienation through technology.

In the hands of lesser talents, these and other scenes could have played as precious or overly-wrought in tone. But both Zmarzly and Stark deliver them in such nuanced ways that audience members were spellbound.

In fact, a great deal about this production — from its casting to its pacing to its handling of dialogue and set details — is so expertly done it makes me think the real story is that Lean Ensemble Theater, a relatively new company for the area, has, with this latest production, achieved an entirely new level of success.

Founded in 2015 by Blake White, who serves as the company’s artistic director, the theater group has made strides to improve both the audience’s experience and its productions through such measures as “audience talk backs” and the use of a dramaturg.

It’s a methodical approach that seems to be working.

Already the company has taken on some of the must-do, albeit “safe” classics, such as “The Glass Menagerie,” but they’ve also experimented and asked questions with “The Waverly Gallery,” a play I wasn’t sure was the best fit for the company but remained a worthwhile undertaking.

Now in the close of its first full season, Lean Ensemble has delivered something special with “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” leaving one with the sense that not only has this company found its groove, it will certainly be the one to watch in the months to come.

If You Go

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” runs through Sunday, May 8, at the Hilton Head Preparatory School Main Street Theatre, 3000 Main St., Hilton Head Island.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 7, and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 8.

Tickets are $40; $35 for the Sunday matinee. Discounts for students and active military are available.

For details, call 843-715-6676 or visit www.leanensemble.org.

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