If you think the title “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is a bit odd, wait ‘til you see the Christopher Durang play on stage in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Warner Theatre.
The name of the 2013 Tony Award-winning Best Play is taken from characters in plays by Russian playwright Anton Chekov, as is the setting, even though 9 or 10 trees don’t make an orchard. You don’t, however, need a degree — or even an interest — in Russian theater to start laughing.
After the first few uncomfortably familiar exchanges by Vanya (Bill Svelmoe) and (adopted) sister Sonia (Melissa Manier) as they share (?) morning coffee on the porch of the family home in Bucks County, PA. where nit picking and self-pity have become a way of life, you realize its really OK to laugh, and laugh a lot.
As the duo prepares to spend another day of nothing happening, the forecast gets a jolt from the mostly-manic, part-time cleaning lady Cassandra (Marybeth Saunders), who not only predicts the weather but sees storm clouds in the future and warns them to beware of “pootie pie,” an omen that means nothing to either of them. Cassandra is extremely physical and also wields a mean hatpin.
Sonia and Vanya continue to bemoan lost chances. Both in their fifties, they have spent their lives in the family home caring for their now-deceased parents. Neither has a job and are completely dependent on their sister Masha (Lucinda Gary Moriarty), who left home to follow her dream and became a movie star, albeit in slasher films not classics, and who, not incidentally, owns their home.
The morning ritual is interrupted by the appearance of Masha and her boy toy Spike (Brian Wells), who has a problem keeping his clothes on. His flimsy claim to fame is almost being cast in Entourage 2.
Masha’s visit has two purposes: she plans to attend a big costume party given by well-connected neighbors and expects her siblings to accompany her to complete her costume and, oh yes, she plans to sell the house.
Masha’s insecurity takes a hit with the appearance of Nina (Sam Blevins), the neighbor’s niece, who is an aspiring actor and a contemporary of Spike’s.
Things come to a head the morning after the party when Vanya assembles them all to hear a reading of his play, set after the destruction of earth with Nina as a molecule. Declaring he can “multi-task,” Spike texts during the reading and Vanya literally explodes, delivering a rant that covers everything from technology to global warming to Senor Wences and mourns the loss of culture and shared memories and the disconnection of lives. “I miss the past,” he says. “And I worry about the future.”
There is no sound of falling trees to mark the end of this play, only the quiet re-connection of the disparate family, still hoping for better days ahead.
Director Jim Geisel has some of South Bend Civic’s veteran best in his cast and they work well together although some tend to go way over the top and arrive at caricature rather than character.
The scenic design by Jacee Rohick provides a well-detailed setting rather more like Florida than Pennsylvania, and there is no mistaking the Disney influence on the party costumes.
“VANYA AND SONIA AND SASHA AND SPIKE” plays through Sept. 27 in the Warner Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre, 215 W. Madison Ave. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org