The names might seem familiar, and as you watch the show, some of the references sound like something you may have heard of before. In Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the Tony Award-winning Best Play of the 2013 season, Playwright Christopher Durang brings us comedy, as only he can. The characters are drawn from Chekhov and classic Greek plays, and modern diva and millennial stereotypes; and then thoroughly twisted by Durang.
Vanya and Sonia, two of three adult siblings, rarely leave the Bucks County, PA house that they grew up in. Their sister, Masha, a well-known actress of stage and screen, is the only one working and despite rare visits, she pays for everything, as she did from afar when their parents both dealt with dementia before dying. Portentious prophecies from the cleaning lady, Cassandra, warn of terrible events that may soon transpire. When Masha does return home with her new ‘boy-toy,’ Spike, he vacuously flirts with everyone, including Nina, a pretty young actress who is visiting family in the neighborhood. Tensions rise as we see the sometimes silly prophecies of Cassandra seem to be sprinkled with omens worth being wary of.
The Reston Community Players production, under the direction of Tel Monks, shows strength in many design aspects. The living room set never changes, but the show begins with a partial wall/window unit flown out, which clearly sets up the view of a pond which the characters enjoy. Nicely designed by Maggie Modig, the set believably represents a comfortable space for a morning coffee and acts as the family gathering spot.
The sound design, by Jon Roberts, is clever and well presented, offering balalaikas for scene changes, and appropriate sounds and songs from onstage phones and music players. Costume design, by Judy Whelihan, was also excellent. A costume party in the show allows a costumer to offer bits of whimsy as well as help actors portray specific aspects of their characters. I was especially taken with the transformation of Sonia (Lee Slivka) who wore a frumpy night gown, to a “who-is-the-fairest?” wicked witch costume, which clearly helped empower Sonia to come out of her anxious shell for one night.
Another beautiful costume was worn by Nina (Suzy Alden) as she plays a molecule in the new play that Vanya is introducing to his family. Nina’s costume looked gorgeous and classically Greek, though how that represents a molecule escapes me. The absurdity was lovely, but Alden as the ingénue, seems the most realistic of the characters in the show.
Played by a mix of RCP veterans and newcomers, Director Tel Monks helps each actor develop the family dynamics, as well as the humor; both subtle, and otherwise. The play starts slowly and the exposition at times, seems unnecessarily explanatory, leaning one minute to farce, then suggesting in the next, that this is realism. Vanya (Andrew JM Regiec) is a bit mousy, gaining sympathy from the audience as he tries to quell the bickering between his sisters, Sonia (Lee Slivka) and Masha (Joanne Maylone). Maylone is appropriately self-centered as the returning diva, and clearly wants attention from Spike, and everyone else. Spike (Will MacLeod) is charmingly vacuous, and is ready to bare his chest at any opportunity. Cassandra (Alexa Yarboro) offers troubling warnings, but comes to be seen as supportive of the family interests.
A favorite moment is Vanya’s monologue near the play’s end, ranting about young millennials, but blind to societal problems of the 1950s, which he remembers only with nostalgic longing. Durang has set up bits which the audience will find hilarious in the moment, only to look back on later, and question with much more depth.
Don’t fear the references to Chekhov or his comic tragedies; Durang has shifted the tone of the stories with a masterful hand. Don’t miss this excellent cast in this fine production.
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, plays through February 4, 2017 at the Reston Community Players, performing at the Centerstage at the Reston Community Center – 2310 Colts Neck Road, in Reston, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 476-4500, or purchase them online.