With age can come money, knowledge, wisdom and a newfound grace when performing the dance we call life.
But as you get older, you lose something special: the ability to think of your future as endless. The path to come no longer stretches out as far as you can see, as it does for the young, with tantalizing (and, yes, often scary) possibilities. With age comes the knowledge that you’ve already made many of the important choices in life.
Christopher Durang’s spiffy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” given a rousing performance by Good Company Players at the 2nd Space Theatre, is quite funny, no question about it. In this good-natured homage to Anton Chekhov, Durang mashes together characters and story lines from that towering playwright’s best known works into a happy, silly melange.
You thought Chekhov was gloomy? In many ways, this present-day outing, set in a “lovely farmhouse” in Bucks County, Penn., is more like a sugar high.
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There’s something more, though. Durang doesn’t push it hard, but a finely honed bittersweet sensibility gives an edge to the play that makes it all the more excellent. Vanya (played by Michael Peterson), Sonia (Joyce Anabo) and Masha (Jennifer Hurd-Peterson), three unhappy siblings, are all grappling with being at least halfway, if not more, through their life journey. And they’re all wondering whether they could have done things differently.
You don’t need to be a Chekhov expert, or to even have a passing familiarity with his plays, to thoroughly enjoy the Tony Award-winning “Vanya and Sonia.” (You might get an even bigger kick out of it, however.) If you know that Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” included as a plot point an aristocratic family forced to watch its family estate being auctioned, you’ll be in pretty good shape.
The three siblings were named by community-theater-enthusiast parents for Chekhov characters from different plays, a fact that wears upon them to this day. The lackluster Vanya, a grumbling sort, and Sonia, who never lets up moaning about her spinsterhood, live together in the family house where they cared for many years for their aging parents, now deceased.
They rarely see Masha, by now a fading Hollywood movie star who has supported the family for decades.
When Masha shows up with her decades-younger boyfriend, the hunky Spike (Benjamin Rawls), and announces she’s there to attend a neighbor’s costume party — oh, and also sell the family house — fireworks ensue.
Director Patrick Tromborg crafts a tight, witty ensemble performance that plays up the silliness to good effect but still gets into the texture of the siblings’ characters.
Anabo and Peterson both have fine moments of self-awareness when they become more than just morose whiners. (A lengthy telephone call in the second act that Anabo’s Sonia takes is a high point.) And an amusing Hurd-Peterson embraces the brashness of Masha (sometimes a little too emphatically in the first act) but has a good handle on what makes this vain, selfish character tick.
Rawls gives a shirt-popping performance as a charismatic Spike, whose narcissism and proclivity for stripping off his clothing both baffle and mesmerize Vanya and Sonia. (Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s costumes, from Spike’s skin-baring outfits to a Snow White-themed wardrobe for the costume party, are well done, and Evan Commins’ lighting design manages to find pensive moments without the use of a follow spot.)
Ariana Marmolejo, as a sweet young neighbor, is charming. And 2nd Space favorite Mary Piona, as a housekeeper named Cassandra who keeps spouting Cassandra-like prophecies laced with pop-culture references, serves both as broad comic relief and a reminder that Durang, known for his absurdism, still manages to slip some strangeness into this mostly realistic play.
There are moments in the play that could be tightened and made better as the run progresses, and I think they mostly have to do with the direction. A crying jag indulged in by Sonia and Masha is an example: It comes across as all camp, but shouldn’t it also reflect more of a glimmer of truth?
And a celebrated harangue by Vanya (reminiscent of the character from “Uncle Vanya”) late in the show is not the virtuosic high point it should be. Tromborg should find a way to help Peterson craft the minutes-long, stream-of-consciousness spectacle into a building, encompassing crescendo that you can’t help but surrender to. Instead, the monologue remains mostly static.
But overall, the laughs and the insights in this fiercely well-written play are combustible.
With the two younger characters, Spike and Nina, in their midst, the Two Sisters/One Brother (do you get it? — it’s my own Chekhov reference) bond together in the realization that they’ve shared something their entire lives: a place on a timeline that can’t be changed. Each one still has a path ahead, but every step will seem more precious.