5 STARS - Check off Chekhov for New Milford's serious sounding title for a laugh-out-loud comedy
Christopher Durang is often associated with parodies, but “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is not of that ilk. This comedy with its serious sounding title is a laugh-filled event. It is not a parody, but a comedy that stands on its own. Yes, you can find references to Chekhov’s works if you’re familiar with “Uncle Vanya” and “The Cherry Orchard” and his other plays and many characters, but you don’t have to know anything Chekhovian to enjoy this hilarious comedy. Actually, there’s just as much about Durang as there is Chekhov here.
Vanya and Sonia live in a rural farm house in Bucks County, PA. Just so you know, Durang actually calls Buck County home and he lives in a farmhouse. Vanya, like Durang, is a quiet middle-aged man (okay now Durang is a little past middle-aged) and Sonia is his adopted sister. The two have lived in this farmhouse for years. They grew up here and for years they cared for their elderly parents who have passed on. The sister and brother don’t know what they should do with their lives now. They do worry that the owner of their house, their sister Masha will sell it. Since they have not worked and have no money, they would be in dire straits if that should ever happen.
Cassandra is their psychic cleaning lady who intentionally over dramatizes future misfortunes. She’s not always right, but when she is it’s astounding. As Vanya and Sonia ponder how they wasted their lives, their sister Masha, a successful actress, arrives on the scene with boy-toy Spike, who is a much younger than Masha and a flirt who loves women. Masha invites everyone to a costume party including Nina, a young girl Spike met at the pond on the family’s property. Masha has a very green streak of jealousy and senses something brewing with the young girl and Spike.
Since Masha is going to the party as Snow White, she wants all the others to play roles that pertain to the fairy tale. After some persuasion, Vanya agrees to be the dwarf Doc, but Sonia refuses to be Dopey. Instead she will wear a costume of her own choosing. Nina who dresses as a pretty as a princess, ignites Masha’s envy and finally agrees to be Dopey instead of the pretty princess.
Throughout the entire performance, humorous situations have audience members laughing out loud. However, when Vanya reveals that he has written a play and the cast agrees to read the various roles, it’s impossible to stifle a laugh. This is Durang at his most clever and this cast maximizes every comic line.
Director Jocelyn Beard has nailed the Durang funny bone to the point where it’s impossible not to laugh at the obvious foibles of these characters. David Fritsch plays Vanya with an extra dash of common sense as Lana Peck as Sonia moans and groans to hilarious results. Sumiah Gay as Cassandra enters the scene like gangbusters and adds plenty of energy to the production.
Ali Bernhardt lives up to her character’s description as the successful actress Masha. Indeed, Bernhardt is the star of the production and milks every moment deliciously. Nick Raines is perfectly cast as Spike, an ego maniac, wannabe actor who is the ideal opportunist. Maya Jennings Daley as Nina is picture pretty with a smile that lights up a room.
The beautiful farmhouse interior is the artwork of Leif Smith, Kate Moncuse and Shagbargh Scenic. Philip Lamb’s scenic projection design is a masterly work. When the realistic red barn painting suddenly features a wind turbine in motion, it makes you love the magic of theater and technical knowhow more than ever. Sue Haneman’s costumes add vivid color to the characters, and Peter Petrino’s lighting design accents them perfectly. Playing through Aug. 3, this is one comedy that will have smiling for days just thinking about it.