Chekov's Fun: Vanya & Sonia & Masha and Spike
Review by Ameila Parenteau
Rounding out its first season, new-to-the-scene Crescent City Stage presents Vanya & Sonia & Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang, a belly-laugh comedy that centers on the narcissistic despair of its three titular siblings: Vanya (Doug Spearman), Sonia (Jana Mestecky), and Masha (Lorene Chesley). Yes, they’re named after Chekhov characters, and the script is littered with easter eggs for theater buffs, but even those with no knowledge of Chekhov’s oeuvre will find this 2.5-hour escapade wildly entertaining.
Michael A. Newcomer’s scenic design furnishes a sumptuous bohemian-meets-mid-century-modern living room in the siblings’ family home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where the entirety of the action takes place. Vanya and Sonia live listlessly in this house they inherited after their parents died, while Masha foots the bill for their languorous lifestyle as a world-famous movie star.
The play begins with 'Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf'-level bickering between Vanya and Sonia, revealing Sonia pines for Vanya, and she was adopted. The pair have spent the past 15 years taking care of their aging parents and find themselves purposeless without them. The tone veers from heightened poetic realism as Vanya and Sonia retread the tedium of their matinal rituals, to theatrically absurd with the entrance of their housekeeper Cassandra (Donyae Asante) and her daily prophecy of doom.
The comedy ramps up as Masha breezes in with her significantly younger boytoy, Spike (Cody Evans), who can’t keep his shirt on for the life of him. Speaking of shirts, Tiffani Sheriff’s costume design adeptly emphasizes each character’s idiosyncrasy, from glamorous Masha to fastidious Vanya. Act one builds to a costume party at the neighbor’s house, with the threat of Chekhovian tragedy descending on the farcical fun, as Masha is threatening to sell the family home, thereby evicting Vanya and Sonia (as Cassandra had warned).
Act two showcases the cast’s comedic and dramatic chops, including Sonia and Masha’s pity party dressed as princesses on the couch, competing for Vanya’s sympathy, and fawning neighbor Nina (Yvette Bourgeois) trawling her depths to embody a molecule in the performance of Vanya’s climate apocalypse play-within-a-play. Liam Gardner’s lighting design provides the perfect backdrop to brilliant, wild Cassandra’s prophetic outbursts, and Amara Skinner’s sound design supplies a fun soundtrack to accompany the characters’ mood swings.
An unusual climax comes in the form of a Boomer humor nostalgia tour monologue from Vanya, berating Spike for his lack of appreciation for how things were: “The past was idiotic, but I miss parts of it. […] Though it was extremely boring, it was something we shared.” Durang can’t help but deliver a happy ending, and Vanya & Sonia & Masha give Spike the boot and accept a new appreciation of their uncertain middle age. Neither idiotic nor boring, this Chekhov in the twenty-first century spin-off is an American response to Russian existentialism, full of hubris and humor.
Vanya & Sonia & Masha and Spike runs through June 30. Tickets and more information available here.
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