Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray
Gail M. Burns: I am deeply saddened, in the most appropriately Russian manner, to realize that Christopher Durang writes Chekhovian drama almost better than Anton Chekhov. Allow me a moment of deep reflection on the meaning of this revelation and its impact on my understanding of the cosmos and my pointless existence as an infinitesimal speck of useless matter within its vastness.
Larry Murray: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike – currently on view at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox through September 14 – could have easily been a parody of Chekhov’s classic plays but instead it is a valentine, a love letter of a play by Durang. The result is a comedy with deep life lessons, as its characters relearn what it means to be a family.
Gail: While you don’t have to know Chekhov’s plays to thoroughly enjoy this one, the more you know about dramatic literature, the more fun you’ll have. And while Chekhov is definitely an acquired taste, this will tickle the fancies of Chekhov lovers and haters in equal measure because Durang understands both what is wonderful and what is thoroughly annoying about the works of the Master.
Here Durang uses character names from Chekhov’s plays – Vanya and Sonia from Uncle Vanya, Masha from Three Sisters and The Seagull, Nina from The Seagull – and throws in endless allusions to his works throughout. Here Vanya (Jim Frangione), Sonia (Tod Randolph) and Masha (Elizabeth Aspenlieder) are siblings – after a fashion, Sonia is adopted – whose professorial parents named them after Chekhov’s characters. Masha, a five-times-divorced B-list film actress, owns the family home in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania, (just down the road from the home Dorothy Parker owned in the mid-20th century), where Vanya and Sonia, both unmarried, continue to live after caring for their parents through the ends of their lives. Nina (Olivia Saccomanno) just happens to be the name of a young woman visiting next door, and Spike (Mat Leonard) is Masha’s studly young lover. Like Madame Arkadina in The Seagull, Masha is an actress sliding precipitously over the hill, who is simultaneously jealous of and inspired by Nina’s luminous youthful beauty and incipient passion for acting.