With Vanya, and Sonia and Masha and Spike we find Christopher Durang an assured, wonderfully entertaining playwright, running at full throttle. In this 2013 Tony Award Winner he has blended Chekhovian deep characters with his trademark whimsical absurd humor and startlingly fresh insights about today’s America. Director Kurt Beattie has assembled a fantastic cast to bring this all alive.
The setting is an estate in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Vanya and his sister Sonia are greeting another sunlit morning, bickering and fretting their time away. Soon their successful sister Masha, the actress, pops in with her latest boyfriend, a much younger man named Spike. The oft-divorced Masha has supported her unemployed siblings forever and is now planning to sell the house from under them. Therein is the basic plot conflict, but Durang has so much more planned for us.
Cassandra is the family’s cleaning lady; she somehow channels an oddly off-kilter soothsayer; something like a very streetwise Sophocles character. Cynthia Jones assumes that role and has a ball with it. Her monologues recited in eerie jolting trances were showstoppers. Sydney Andrews plays Nina, a perky young neighbor who comes visiting the estate hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous Masha. William Poole is the hypersexual, young Spike; his hairdo is almost worth the price of admission.
Amid all the shenanigans and head spinning loopy humor, the play finally is a charming character study of a family simply trying to make it through the day with some sense of purpose and dignity. Marianne Owen as Sonia and Pamela Reed as Masha are delightful. Owen’s character has a heartbreaking scene where she finally begins to come to terms with the outside world and her role in it.
Most impressive is R. Hamilton Wright’s Vanya. He has a diatribe in act two that blew the roof off the theater. His heartfelt rant compares the now with the then in a dizzying array of data, from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet to the loss of lick-able postage stamps. Yes, both eras are confusing and often painful, but damn, the past was so much better.
ACT gives this production a first-rate treatment. Scenic designer Cary Wong has created a gorgeous home for the siblings and their guests. Sound designer Brendan Patrick Hogan has a Beatle classic sounding just right at a crucial moment of this magical evening.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike plays through November 16 at ACT’s Falls Theatre, 700 Union Street, Seattle. Tickets at (206) 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org.