Nina (Leena Lambert), and Vanya (Martin Larson) in Tacoma Little Theatre's production of "Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike"
Nina (Leena Lambert), and Vanya (Martin Larson) in Tacoma Little Theatre's production of "Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike"
Dennis K. Photography (used by permission of Dennis K. Photgraphy and Tacoma Little Theatre)

In an entertainment world altogether too fond of CGI pyrotechnics and mayhem, character study is losing ground. That is part of what makes community theatre great. Free from green screen car explosions, your local theatre is, right now, rehearsing a show that will illuminate the character of individual people. So it is with Tacoma Little Theatre's production of "Vanya and Sonia, and Masha and Spike," which opened this weekend. Character is examined, revealed, refined and burnished. It's 2.5 hours of good theater fun. "V and S and M and S" continues through April 24. Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinees start at 2 p.m.

Vanya and Sonia live empty lives in the home where they once cared for Vanya's elderly parents, who were Sonia's stepparents. The older folks are gone, but Vanya and Sonia are caught in an inertial ennui of aimlessness. . On a fateful weekend, Vanya and Sonia are joined by their sister Masha, who owns the home, and Spike, who is Masha's boy toy.

Over two days the characters talk about the turns their lives have taken. There are both sibling rivalry and blame. There is also underlying love and respect.

Directed by Frank Kohel, with the able assistance of stage manager Jennifer Niehaus-Rivers, the play belies its length with witty dialogue and a surprising array of costume humor. As in the case of so many Tacoma Little Theatre productions, the solidity and realism of the sets are of note. Blake York designed the set for the living room that bears all the action. Mr. York and his carpentry crew deserve accolades.

Martin Larson plays Vanya as someone who could compete in the world, but who has largely chosen not to do so. Mr. Larson last appeared on the TLT stage a whopping 26 years ago! He is excellent in his return engagement.

While Vanya could survive in the world, one has doubts about Sonia's abilities to control her angry impulses and play well with others. Played by South Sound stage veteran Dayna Childs, Sonia is as psycho as she is depressed. Ms. Childs plays the role with verve.

Stephanie Leeper embodies the role of Masha. Ms. Leeper is well-cast in roles of fading glamour. Such was the case in her portrayal of Maxine in Dukesbay's "The Night of the Iguana." Masha knows her fame star is waning. She hides from the advancing number of candles on her birthday cake by dallying with a man half her age...if that. Stephanie Leeper's star on the community stage is not fading, but shining brightly.

Freddie Tse plays Spike as a young man with more brawn than brains, common sense, and moral uprightness combined. Spike's answer to all of life's questions is to remove his shirt. Mr. Tse's theatrical passion is movement and stage combat. He's well-cast as Spike.

The titular characters aside, LaNita Hudson is a treasure in the role of Cassandra the Cleaning Lady. She tidies up after Vanya and Sonia, all the while providing seer and soothsayer services for anyone who cares to listen. The role of Cassandra lends itself to overplay. Ms. Hudson overplays the part in just the right measure. She adds an excellent singing voice to a play that isn't a musical. Nicely done!

Accomplished screen actress Leena Lambert visits Tacoma to play the role of Nina. A newcomer/neighbor to Vanya and Sonia, Nina is reminiscent of early Penny from "The Big Bang Theory." In being at once star-struck and the most level-headed person on stage, she supports the action very well.

The second half of Tacoma Little Theatre's 2015/16 season has been one delight after another. "Second Samuel," "The Last Night of Ballyhoo," and now, "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" have brightened downtown for local lovers of community theater. Next up is "Smokey Joe's Cafe." Can't wait!