Loosely based on “The Cherry Orchard” by famed Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE – according to playwright Christopher Durang – takes Chekhov and puts him into a blender. Clearly, Durang has a ball poking fun at Chekhov’s well-known works – but an encyclopedic knowledge of Chekhov’s works is definitely not necessary to enjoy the resulting mélange. Skillfully directed by Victoria Pearlman, the play has the audience laughing from beginning to end. First produced at the McCarter Theatre in New Jersey in 2012 and moved to off-Broadway and finally Broadway by 2013, VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE won multiple awards, including a Tony for Best Play and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play. The comedy has been produced at venues across the U.S. and Canada and has never failed to bring grins, chuckles, and outright guffaws to audiences. Perhaps Ben Brantley of the New York Times best summarized the comedy as “a sunny new play about gloomy people.”
Vanya (Brad Greenquist), Sonia (Tania Getty), and Masha (Martha Hackett) are siblings raised in the family homestead in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, by their college professor/theater buff/Chekhov-obsessed parents. In fact, their children’s names reflected this very fixation. Over the years, Vanya and his adopted sister Sonia remained in the home to care for their aging parents and never even held an outside job. Their bickering verges on a fine art. Meanwhile, their sister Masha left home to become a star of stage and screen who has been supporting the family for years.
When Masha unexpectedly returns home with her cute boy-toy Spike (Zach Kanner), a family implosion ensues. This definitely isn’t the warm and cuddly reunion you’d expect, but instead is marked by rivalry, regret, and ruckus. Masha isn’t quite ready to grow old, and her career seems to have stalled as the years progressed. Things are about to happen – and the family housekeeper Cassandra (Cyndy Fujikawa), like her Greek counterpart, is more than ready to predict doom and gloom even though no one listens. Meanwhile, Spike has some difficulty keeping his clothing on, with a penchant to undress inches away from the gay Vanya. Enter Nina, the young, lovely, and ethereal niece of the next-door neighbors – and the perfect flower to draw honeybee Spike’s attention – to add to the powder keg brewing in the house. As the merry bunch gather to go to a wealthy neighbor’s costume party – and Masha casually mentions her intention to sell the family home – the fuse may have just been ignited.
Chekhov never gets old, and this hilarious new take on his favorite themes of family, the march of time, and the different ways different people respond to “progress” remains very funny and very timely. VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE proves beyond a doubt that great plays are not tied to any one place or time. His themes are universal, and people are still people. The entire cast does a superb job of portraying some very complex characters with finesse – and, at the same time, keeping the laughter flowing. The play also demonstrates that poking fun at icons can lead to some very funny and equally poignant situations. Wherever he is, Chekhov is probably laughing at the zany antics that his plays inspired. Don’t miss this excellent production.
Where: Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA 90291. Street parking, or small free lot in back.
When: 8pm on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 3 pm Sundays thru July 2, 2023 (No performances June 23, 24, 29)