Chekhovian references abound in ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’
Fans of Anton Chekhov will probably have a field day with Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”
Even those who have only a passing acquaintance with the Russian playwright will no doubt enjoy the Center Repertory Company production.
The title itself alludes to “Uncle Vanya” and “The Three Sisters,” while the text expands on them as well as “The Cherry Orchard” and “The Seagull” — albeit with many more laughs.
The first three title characters are siblings. Vanya and Sonia (who is adopted) live in their family’s farmhouse in Bucks County, Penn. Masha is a Hollywood actress who comes to visit. The much younger Spike is her latest flame.
As the play opens, 57-year-old Vanya (Jackson Davis) and 52-year-old Sonia (Jamie Jones) sip their morning coffee and bicker. Also on hand is Cassandra (Anne Hallinan), their eccentric cleaning lady, who’s prone to making dire predictions.
Vanya, who is gay but apparently celibate, and never married Sonia seem resolved to continuing their humdrum lives The arrival of the oft-married, self-centered, attractive Masha (Marcia Pizzo) with the studly Spike (Rob August) upsets that status quo.
Not only does she plan to attend a neighbor’s costume party dressed as the Walt Disney version of Snow White, she wants Vanya and Sonia to be two of her dwarfs, while Spike is her Prince Charming.
Vanya agrees to go as Doc, but Sonia refuses to be Dopey. Instead, she rounds up her own costume and goes as the evil but glamorous witch. An aspiring young actress, Nina (Sarah Matthes), who is visiting nearby relatives, agrees to go as Dopey.
In the meantime, much to her siblings’ consternation, Masha says she wants to sell the house, which she owns and for which she pays all the bills on top of a monthly stipend to her siblings.
The next day, Nina and Vanya start to enact a dreadful play he’s writing. Spike’s attention to texting on his smart phone launches Vanya into an impassioned tirade about how communications have changed for the worse. He laments the loss of the days when there were only three or four TV stations (perhaps that explains the seemingly anachronistic TV antenna on the roof) and when people enjoyed such wholesome fare as “Howdy Doody,” “I Love Lucy” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Spike’s action also becomes the catalyst for the siblings’ happy resolution and a final scene that’s almost straight out of “Uncle Vanya.”
As directed by Mark Anderson Phillips, the first act tends to move slowly, but the second act picks up. He has a topnotch cast, but Davis’s Vanya inexplicably speaks with a possibly Russian accent that’s unlike the accent usually heard in that part of Pennsylvania.
Likewise, the set designed by Andrea Bechert is a melange of styles bearing faint resemblance to the old stone farmhouses endemic to the area. Other design elements work well with lighting by Kurt Landisman, sound by Matt Stines and costumes by Heidi Leigh Hanson.
Among other awards, the play won the 2013 Tony Award for best play. It’s easy to see why with its witty blend of Chekhovian allusions in a modern setting.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” will continue through Nov. 21 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Center Drive, Walnut Creek. For tickets and information, call (916) 943-7469 or visit www.centerrep.org.