BWW Reviews: VANYA AND SONIA - A Wild Romp That Turns Chekhov On His Head
Think Chekhov and the last thing that comes to mind is comedy. So to be inspired by Chekhov to come up with a play that's laugh-out-loud funny is, to say the least, quite an achievement.
But VANYA, SONIA, MASHA AND SPIKE (yes, even the principal names are taken from notable Chekhov characters) is the work of Tony award-winning playwright Christopher Durang, who has made a name for himself by extracting humor from the darker side of life and reducing us to helpless laughter in the process.
In this case, the story itself is more of a series of variations on Chekhovian themes than a coherent plot. Understanding the Russian master's references is definitely helpful, but is by no means essential in order to have a good time with this highly enjoyable and original comedy.
Vanya, Sonia and Masha are three siblings, intentionally named after Chekhov characters by their academic, theater-loving parents. The parents are now gone, but Vanya and Sonia, who took care of them in their old age, never left the country home in Bucks County, in which they grew up. Now middle-aged and unattached, the two (played by Fusion Theatre Company regulars, Bruce Holmes and Jacqueline Reid) have little to look back on and nothing to look forward to.
The costs involved in maintaining the house - and its occupants - have long been taken care of by their sister, Masha (Joanne Camp) who did leave home and found fame and fortune as a movie star. Now a household name, with several marriages and divorces in her bio, she returns home to pay a visit, accompanied by her latest boy toy, Spike (vigorously played by LA based actor, Ross Kelly.)
Masha's glamorous life-style and movie-star self-absorption are constant and painful reminders to her two stay-at-home siblings, of just how miserable and worthless their own lives have been. And when Masha casually announces that the house has become such a drain on her finances that she is thinking of selling it, they are suddenly faced with a future that looks even bleaker than their dreary pasts.
Added to this strange mix is a housekeeper (played by Elizabeth Huffman) whose life revolves around an unlikely combination of classical Greek drama and voodoo. Her name, of course, is Cassandra and when she isn't proclaiming dire predictions of things to come - all of which do, in fact, come to pass - she is sticking pins in voodoo dolls, with surprisingly effective results.
Masha's teflon personality starts to crack, revealing her inherent insecurity, with the appearance of a pretty, aspiring young actress (Andrea Agosto) who is visiting her aunt, a close neighbor. Masha's attempt to regain her dominant social position by taking everyone to a fancy dress party and telling them what costume to wear, falls spectacularly and comically flat.
VANYA, SONIA, MASHA AND SPIKE is a very well crafted and, at times, hilarious comedy by a highly accomplished playwright, whose unique style requires comic acting of the highest order, to achieve maximum effect. Straight actors are rarely gifted comedians and in the circumstances - especially given the limited amount of time available for preparation and rehearsal - the cast acquitted themselves well. The audience certainly had a good time and there's no doubt that you will too.
The play runs through September 12 at the Cell Theatre (Fusion's home base) before transferring to the Simms Center for Performing Arts, September 20, 21. It then goes up to Santa Fe, playing at the Lensic, September 27, 28.
Photo courtesy of Fusion Theatre Company.