Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at MTC Mainstage

Two college professors and a clever playwright made a family that lived in Bucks County and resembled nothing so much as a composite Chekhov play. The playwright: Christopher Durang. His characters: Vanya (Jim Schilling), Sonia (Cynthia Hannah), Masha (Jodi Stevens). These are all names familiar to Chekhovians. The parents (and Durang) arranged that their children would be named for famous characters from Dr. Chekhov’s dramas. “How could they not know that we would be teased and tormented with these names?” Vanya complains. But now, in their 50’s (more or less) the three are having a reunion. Masha, a movie actress, is dropping in to say hello and take them all to a neighbor’s costume party. Sonia and Vanya have never left their Bucks County homestead. They stayed to take care of their aging parents (now dead) while Masha paid the bills and then, in authentic Chekhov style, just vegetated sadly watching the blue heron on the pond and their tiny cherry orchard. Neither has been married. Masha, on the other hand, has gone through five husbands while keeping up her career.

There are a few other important characters in the play. Vanya and Sonia have a cleaning lady named Cassandra (Katie Sparer) who is both psychic and equipped with a little skill in voodoo. A gentle young neighbor named Nina (Carissa Massaro) fawns over Masha, but Masha fears that Nina will also attract Spike (Christopher DeRosa), her equally young love interest. Spike is an unforgettable gym and fitness buff, prone to shedding clothes and constraints in order to display his muscles and do stretches in what seems to be a series of very seductive poses.

So that’s the team. There they are, gathered in the country house, with sad memories and a strange old servant. Lamenting how to keep up the little estate. Bickering among themselves about who is the saddest, and how to allow the real selves they have squandered to be recovered. Masha wants to sell the house, saying she is running out of money. With a boost from Cassandra, she realizes that her family and their home have meaning.

Christopher Durang is a true Chekhov fan. His adaption of these characters into a modern time and place is brilliant. Pamela Hill has staged the production with flair, on an imaginative set (Carl Tallent) that opens the Bucks County farmhouse to the pond and the audience. Costumes, key to the production, are designed by Diane Vanderkroef, and the lighting by Joshua Scherr and music and sound by Sarah Pero also are significant.

But the Oscars go to this amazing cast who manage to be both extreme and subtle in developing the roles they inhabit. Highlights to watch for are Cynthia Hannah and the coffee mugs, and her come-alive take-off of Maggie Smith, Katie Sparer’s paranoid visions, Jodi Stevens’ ego-maniacal controlling manipulation of everyone in range of Masha, and Carissa Massaro’s tender opening of ‘Uncle Vanya.’¬†Christopher DeRosa’s hilarious posing, along with his amazing body, deserves its own award (he seems pure-born for just this role); but the least forgettable moments are Jim Schilling’s ode to licking postage stamps and telephones with holes for fingers in a dial that took forever to reach 999-9999. It is a spectacular fireworks of words that ties the long play into a handsomely arranged ribbon of style and substance.

MTC is asking the audience to comment on how they liked this production. I loved it. Tickets and information at www.musictheatreofct.org or 203-454-3883



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