Category Archive for: ‘Judy Richter’

Hilarious Chekhovian update in ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’

Judy Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)

By Judy Richter

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” alludes to some of Anton Chekhov’s best-known plays, but Christopher Durang gives them his own contemporary spin. In the process, this winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play evokes rounds of laughter.

The first three people in the title are siblings whose literary parents named them after Chekhovian characters. Vanya (Anthony Fusco) and Sonia (Sharon Lockwood), who was adopted, live in the family’s handsome house in Bucks County,Pa. Both in their 50s, Vanya is gay but celibate, while Sonia has never married. They live quiet, going-nowhere lives and often bicker. However, they enjoy looking at ther pond and grove of cherry trees (Sonia calls it an orchard).

Their housekeeper, Cassandra (Heather Alicia Simms), issues prophecies and later shows herself to be well versed in voodoo.

The routine is disrupted by the arrival of their younger sister, Masha (Lorri Holt), a movie actress, who doesn’t reveal her age but who’s probably in her 50s, too. With her is her 29-year-old boyfriend, Spike (Mark Junek) who’s more sexy than smart.

Masha has been invited to their neighbors’ costume party and plans to go as Snow White from the Walt Disney movie. Spike is to be her Prince Charming, and she has brought costumes for Vanya and Sonia to be two of the dwarves. Sonia refuses, saying she’ll go as the evil queen before she turned ugly. Therefore, Masha enlists the neighbors’ niece, Nina (Caroline Kaplan), an aspiring actress who has stopped by to meet her.

Act 2 takes place the next morning, when everyone is nursing a hangover. Vanya and Sonia are upset that Masha, who pays the household expenses, wants to sell the house. This is where Cassandra and her voodoo help out.

In the meantime, Vanya and Nina decide to enact a play that he has written that supposedly is the play written by Konstantin in Chekhov’s “The Seagull.” In a scene that goes on too long, it turns out to be an awful play about the end of humanity when only molecules survive.

Spike, puzzled by it all, texts on his smart phone, eliciting a (too long) diatribe from Vanya, who talks about the good old days of rotary phones, licked postage stamps, Howdy Doody and other icons of the ’50s and ’60s, before the age of electronics and multi-tasking. However, Spike’s transgression leads to a major discovery and important insights for Masha.

In a welcome return to the Bay Area, director Richard E.T. White makes excellent use of three veteran Bay Area actors — Fusco, Lockwood and Holt — along with three relative newcomers. Except for his Act 2 outburst, Fusco’s Vanya is low-key. Much of the humor in his performance comes from just the slightest change in expression. Lockwood’s Sonia tends to complain a lot, but she has great fun wearing her sequined evil queen gown and imitating Maggie Smith.

Holt’s Masha is a self-centered, egotistical woman who has been married and divorced five times, and she can’t understand why she’s had no luck with romance.

Simms earns several bursts of applause as her Cassandra launches into a near-frenzy of predictions along with allusions to the mythological origin of her name. Junek’s athletic Spike takes pride in his sexiness, sweeping Masha into passionate embraces and twice stripping down to his briefs. Kaplan is appropriately wide-eyed and sweet as young Nina.

The action takes place in the comfortable sun room of a handsome stone house typical of Southeastern Pennsylvania (set by Kent Dorsey, complemented by Alexander V. Nichols’  lighting). Highlighted by the hilarious Snow White outfits, the costumes are by Debra Beaver Bauer. Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen created the sound and original music.

The play runs about two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, but, except for a few scenes, it speeds by with plenty of chances for laughter. You don’t have to be familiar with Chekhov’s plays to enjoy it, but if you are, the fun is all the greater.

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” will continue in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre through Oct. 25. For tickets and information, call (510) 647-2949 or visit


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