You need not be well-versed in the work of the venerable Anton Chekhov to appreciate Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Even if you don't know a cherry orchard from a neighborhood playground, you'll enjoy the madcap antics of Durang's delightfully dysfunctional characters.
It's by and large over-the-top comedy, with sight gags and shameless Chekhov allusions to spare. But it's easy to see why this show, now on stage at The Old Globe Theatre, directed by Jessica Stone, was a Tony winner on Broadway. Besides, there's just enough heart in the script—especially in the case of wallflower Sonia (Marcia DeBonis)—to ensure that the broadly behaving characters are well-rounded ones. Well, maybe not Spike (Tyler Lansing Weaks), who's supposed to be shallow, but what he does during a striptease with the belt of his trousers makes up for his shallowness.
The story finds a brother and adopted sister, Vanya (Martin Moran) and Sonia, living contentedly (though they bicker a lot) in the peaceful Bucks County, Pennsylvania, home owned by their sister Masha (Candy Buckley), who's an extremely neurotic actress—and can she ever emote. When Masha and her boy toy, Spike, show up, the tirades and recriminations and verbal barbs (all played for laughs) get ramped up and all peacefulness is gone. Whether Masha will sell the house that's been her siblings' only home is a key plot point, but it's not really what the play is about. It sounds corny, but it's ultimately about family.
Stone directs these four (along with Haneefah Wood, who has a blast overplaying the future-forecasting cleaning woman, Cassandra, and Allison Layman) with a deft hand. Even at the play's most outrageous moments—and there are many of them—VSM&S never degenerates into slapstick. Buckley just about rules the stage as Masha, as she should, and DeBonis brings keen sympathy to Sonia's lot in life. And Moran's Act 2 appreciation for the simpler time that was the '50s is breathless.
It all unfolds on a sumptuous set by David Korins. The house and environs are the kind you wouldn't mind settling into yourself. Minus the family chaos. Or maybe you'd like the family chaos because it reminds you of your own family.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs through June 22 at The Old Globe. $29 and up. oldglobe.org
—David L. Coddon
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The Clean House: The story of a woman, her maid who doesn't like cleaning houses and her husband who falls in love with another woman who's dying of cancer. Through June 8 at PowPAC in Poway. powpac.org
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Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike: A successful actress returns home to Pennsylvania, where her siblings have spent much of their adult lives caring for their now-deceased parents, and she's brought her dumb, much younger boyfriend with her. Through June 22 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
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