— Here’s a show lets you check out some Chekov without all the angst.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the Tony-winning play by Christopher Durang which opened at Stage West last Saturday, is a domestic comedy with an extremely light Russian accent. Because even if you have never heard of Anton Chekov, the 19th century Russian dramatist who gave Durang the inspiration for some aspects of this show’s content and most of its names, you can still have a fabulous time with this witty romp.
Set in the present in a fashionable Bucks County, Penn., home (think of it as a country dacha), the action centers on middle-aged Vanya (Steven Pounders) and his adopted sister, Sonia (Wendy Welch), so named because their parents were academics who studied Russian literature. They are a bit adrift and completely useless by any external measure. They seem to just putter around their lovely house and wait for a blue heron (not a seagull, mind you) to return to the pond on their property that they gaze at like most people watch television.
Then, into this tedium and serenity bounces the pair’s movie star sister, Masha (Shannon J. McGrann), a self-absorbed force of nature who is as reckless and active as her siblings are safe and passive. In addition to her baggage, Masha hauls in her extremely young and hunkish boyfriend, Spike (Haulston Mann). These contradictory characters provide abundant fodder for tons of the sort of comic conflicts for which Durang is so justly admired. But the business of the play is really to get these people to come to terms with why they hate their lives so much, and do something about it. Oh, and they also need to convince Masha, who has been financially supporting her siblings for years, not to sell the house.
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This production, directed by TCU theater department head Harry Parker, sparkles with outstanding performances. McGrann, in a role that Durang’s Yale classmate Sigourney Weaver originated on Broadway, has all the fun the script allows with her magnificently flawed character. Mann, who looks like an extra from Magic Mike, matches up with his character physically, and also acts him well. Nadine Marissa garners more than her share of laughs as the goofy (but somewhat clairvoyant) maid, Cassandra. And Amber Marie Flores, as the neighbor girl, Nina, provides a needed contrast to the older and wackier lead players.
But the best work in the show is contributed by Pounders and Welch. The former does an outstanding job of finding exactly the right tone and timbre for his pensive and easily overwhelmed character. And the latter is absolutely priceless as a mousey woman who has always found life in general to be an unsolvable mystery. They are great individually (Welch has one, semi-serious solo moment that is perhaps the highpoint of the show) and are just about perfect when working together. Hats off to them and their director.
Also of note is Dennis Canright’s eye-popping set design. If Stage West wanted to make some extra money on this production, they could probably put this warm and cozy set on the market and sell it as a new home.
There is, however, one flaw with this show and it is huge: it is longer than a Russian winter.
Despite maintaining a good pace, this production is less than 10 minutes shy of running three hours. No comedy should be that long. Even one as good as this.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Through July 12
821 W. Vickery Blvd.
7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays ; and 3 p.m. Sundays and July 4