"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" at Live Arts

Bill LeSueur (from left), Linda Zuby, Jen Downey and T.J. Ferguson can be seen in Live Arts' production of "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike."

You know those deep, brooding Russian plays that linger on discontent and ennui and regret and family relationships gone askew? Those dark plays written by Anton Chekhov?

Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” isn’t one of them.

It does, however, hark to their parts. It’s a very funny farce that explores some of the same themes, but in a lighter, much funnier package. The show won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, as well as the Drama Desk Award.

Playwright Durang has said, “I take Chekhov scenes and characters and put them into a blender … you don’t have to know Chekhov super-well to enjoy it.”

In fact, even if the only Chekhov you’ve heard of was on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, you’re very likely to enjoy Live Arts’ production of this, running through March 28.

This is skillfully crafted silliness — and director Julie Hamberg rolls with it, and has assembled a terrific cast.

The show revolves around three siblings and a family home with a pond and a cherry orchard — or, at least, a bunch of cherry trees — set in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (where, incidentally, Durang really has his own home on a pond).

Bill LeSueur, as Vanya, the late-middle-aged brother who is quietly gay, is superb. He tends to let his character dwell in quietness until the lid blows off of the sibling bottle; then, in the second act, he delivers a rant/monologue that clinches the character, and earned its own round of applause at Wednesday’s performance. His grasp of nuance and passion and Durang’s marvelous writing are a remarkable combination.

Linda C. Zuby is his neurotic stepsister, Sonia, who has wrapped herself in ennui and habit. Like Vanya, Sonia is resigned, comfortable with her misery — until their actress/movie star sister, Masha, shows up with a boy toy, and their static world is turned kaleidoscopic.

It’s then that Zuby’s considerable acting skills come fully into play, and she is very funny, giving life to a character that takes a while (and a costume) to fully realize that she may indeed have a life ahead. Zuby is good, though she tended to mug just a little at the beginning of Wednesday’s performance.

Rounding out this dysfunctional trio is Jen Downey as Masha. Downey is wonderfully egotistical and demanding — and funny — as the diva Masha believes herself to be, and later as the person she really is.

Complementing the siblings are three other characters — a maid named Cassandra, who, like the mythical oracle, predicts dire things and is generally ignored; a buff young boy toy for the older sister with a penchant for running around in his underwear; and an innocent young woman named Nina.

Geri Schirmer is hilarious as Cassandra, turning the oracle into a sort of Long Island Medium, fully playing up the New York accent and giving the concept of Cassandra in any play an entirely new twist. This may be her best performance ever for Live Arts.

And then there’s Spike, Masha’s midlife-crisis human Ferrari, her boy-toy compensation for five divorces. T.J. Ferguson skillfully creates an airheaded 20-something muscle-bound semi-exhibitionist actor whose biggest accomplishment so far has been almost being cast in “Entourage 2.”

And then there’s the sweet neighbor, Nina, a young, innocent and admiring visitor to the area. Lauren Lukow is utterly convincing as sweet Nina, who, in her own , brings all of the siblings to resolution — and also does a fine job of playing a molecule.

Director Hamberg has done a superb job of pulling these very individual characters into a true ensemble, hitting the right emotional notes while keeping the pacing up. She’s created a rhythm to the production, an ebb and flow that carries the audience along with the show, leaving them time to both laugh and think.

And she’s chosen excellent designers to help her do that. Scenic designer Jerry King has provided a set that’s not only pretty, but helps the flow of the show — and even has the requisite number of doors for a farce, though not as obvious.

Tracie Skipper’s lights admirably and subtly enhance mood within each scene. Amy Goffman’s costumes, too, are mostly subtle, but the wardrobe for Cassandra is perfect, and very funny. The costumes for a costume party the whole crazy group attends are marvelous, especially Sonia’s.

Durang has given us a marvelous play, and Live Arts has given us a truly good production of it.

Do remember that, unless you’re a season ticket holder, all shows at Live Arts have open seating — so, if you plan to go, be sure to get there early even if you’ve reserved tickets.

 

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”

8 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. Wednesday and 7:30 p.m. Thursday; runs through March 28

Live Arts

$25; $20 students and seniors

Wednesday nights are on a “pay what you can” basis

Talkback time after Sunday’s matinee

977-4177, Ext. 123

 

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