TISCH MILLS, Wis. (WFRV) – ?????

That’s one thought on the title, as in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike? That’s strange. What can that be about?”

The play is a theatrical adventure of the mind and senses and feelings, laden with wry humor. It’s a comedy-plus.

The Forst Inn Arts Collective is answering the ????? with flair in six more performances to June 25.

Guided by the skills of director Cathy DeLain, each cast member delivers at least one vivid solo scene in the quirky story.

Stephanie Miller, center, as a soothsayer, with Dan Sallinen and Deborah Oettinger. (Tessa Komororwski Jindra)

Like a thoroughbred horse needing to let loose its energy, frisky playwright Christopher Durang gives himself his head. His story is encyclopedic, covering everything from Alzheimer’s to the end of the world. Characters are given to eruptions. Vanya of the title has a particularly explosive rant that is basically this: “Things ain’t what they used to be and they were better back then and I don’t like texting and tweeting and all the twerps who love that junk. So there.”

Vanya and Sonia live in the family home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Hint about the place: Think of Door County and some of the nice digs there, plus the similar atmosphere of arts/intellect and a dusting of celebrity. The residence in this play is up the road from where writer Dorothy Parker once lived – she being a stellar wit with a sting that is akin to Christopher Durang in this play.

Vanya (Dan Sallinen) and Sonia (Deborah Oettinger) have taken care of their professor parents with a penchant for theater – thus their Anton Chekov/Russian-sounding names – through the final throes of Alzheimer’s Disease. Vanya and Sonia, his adopted sister, have sacrificed their lives for their parents’ well-being. Meantime, their sister, Masha (Vicki Svacina), has been off in Hollywood or an exotic film location as a screen star. Masha even had a string of global hits. She played a seductress, and the movies were sensational and audience-pleasing violent/cheesy.

Dan Sallinen, Vickie Svacina, Blaine Rezach and Deborah Oettinger before a party. (Tessa Komorowski Jindra)

The catalyst for action is Masha is dropping in on her siblings to tell them she is heeding her advisor and selling the house. Suddenly, Vanya, 57, and Sonia, 52, will have no means of income and no place to go. Masha has become a cougar in more ways than one. She of five broken marriages arrives with her latest main squeeze, Spike (Blaine Rezach), 20 or so years her younger and an oversexed stud. In a ! moment in the play, Spike is up for a spontaneous swim in the pond outside the house, so, poof, off go his clothes, and he prances off in his underpants to pond-tificate, I guess.

Leveling the outbursts and despair is a neighbor girl, Nina (Katie Baumgartner), who represents youth, innocence and hope.

Spicing the aura is the housekeeper, Cassandra (Stephanie Miller), who is clairvoyant. The character is borrowed from Greek mythology. Stephanie Miller’s performance is a form of jazz improvisation with a Caribbean flavor. Lines are displays of an excited personality who dominates a room. Cassandra unloads premonitions and bits of voodoo in a form of electrified comedy. Stephanie Miller performed the role in 2016 with Attic Chamber Theatre in Menasha. An eagerness to jump back in the role lights up The Forst Inn stage for a “Wow!” effect.

Byplay around angst and regret, comically dusted, is the general drift between the siblings. Subtle jokes and plays on words and situations fill the dialogue. Each title character gets at least one showpiece.

Blaine Rezach steps into the skin of the shallow and vainglorious Spike to deliver an energized macho audition piece for a role he almost got.

Deborah Oettinger finesses Sonia’s eggshell feelings surrounding a momentous moment – a date for a woman whose life has been a parade passing by as an observer.

Vicki Svacina delves into the multiplicities of a soul whose money-making stardom is fading. Many subtle complexities of Masha are carefully expressed – sad to silly – with a scene of Masha playing shadings of a Chekhov character especially brilliant.

Katie Baumgartner, Dan Sallinen, Deborah Oettinger before a party. (Tessa Komorowski Jindra)

And then there is Dan Sallinen leaping into one of the classic rants in theater. During the reading of a play (very cosmic) by Vanya, Spike has been texting. Verbal flames leap in the rage Vanya feels about precious things to him from his times past. Dan Sallinen unleashes the laments, the pleasures, the conflicts that Vanya expresses: “We used to lick postage stamps!… Have you heard of World War Two?” And more: “Now there’s Twitter and email and Facebook and cable satellite… and the movies and TV shows are all worthless. And we don’t even watch the same worthless things together. It’s all separate. And our lives are… disconnected.”

Christopher Durang’s play is a marvel. It won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play.

The production by The Forst Inn Arts Collective captures the zest of a theatrical rollercoaster with laughs.


Running time: Two hours, 35 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. June 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25

Info: forstinn.org

Creative: Playwright – Christopher Durang; director – Cathy DeLain; scenic treatment – Lisa Heili, Michael Sheeks; sound and lights – Michael Sheeks; stage manager – Scott Retzak; deck manager – Ayvah Schilling; photography – Tessa Komorowski Jindra

Cast (in order of appearance)

Vanya – Dan Sallinen

Sonia – Deborah Oettinger

Cassandra – Stephanie Miller

Masha – Vicki Svacina

Spike – Blaine Rezach

Nina – Katie Baumgartner


NEXT: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare, July 8-10, 15-16, 21-23, 28-31.

THE VENUE: The historic Forst Inn is located at the corner of Kewaunee County roads B and BB in Tisch Mills. The building dates to 1868, with assorted lives over the years. For a notable period – 1990 into the 2000s – the place was popular for productions of Little Sandwich Theatre, which Manitowoc attorney Ron Kaminski (deceased 2018) nurtured with a caring hand as artistic director/performer/do-all for a wide array of productions. The present venture is of that spirit. The stage is wide and narrow. The space is intimate. Seating is at small tables on two levels in a slight arc in front of the slightly raised stage. To the audience’s rear is the stage director’s space, with light and sound controls. The space is essentially a black box in theater style in the front – with additions: two chandeliers above the audience, a street lamp the seating area and the ambiance of 1920s style elements to the rear in a service area.  A seating/serving area is in the middle of the building, along with a ticketing counter. The bar area out front includes the bar, table seating, more 1920s ambiance and a passage to an art gallery (rotating artists) that is now part of the offerings of The Forst Inn Arts Collective overseen by Michael Sheeks, who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus in Manitowoc.