With a title like “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” you might assume this Tony Award-winning script is a tribute to the great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. And there are some connections – but it’s like playwright Christopher Durang has taken Chekhov’s plays and put them in a blender, along with a lot of other crazy stuff.
So you’ve got a middle-aged brother and sister living in a country house, talking about how life has eluded them. Then their famous sister – an aging B-movie celebrity – arrives and announces that she’s selling the old place, she can’t afford to keep it up. A classic Chekhov set-up.
Then there’s the quirky housekeeper named Cassandra who storms in screaming the direst prophecies.
Cassandra: “LOOK OUT! LOOK OUT! Surrounding us are lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!”
It’s like an oracle from an Ancient Greek tragedy popping up in “The Wizard of Oz.”
But then the story switches to a costume party. The celebrity sister dresses up as Snow White – the center of attention. And the quiet siblings have to dress as menial dwarves, wearing ugly costumes like shapeless feed sacks. So a bunch of Disney jokes go into the blender, and get pureed in with the Chekhov.
Other movie references get obscure, like when the somber single sister starts doing an impression of an English actress. Who’s she playing?
Sonia: “Will I win tonight? Let it be me, Sidney!”
Spike: “Sidney? Sidney Kowalski?”
Masha: “No, that’s Stanley Kowalski, not Sidney Kowalski…”
Sonia “Sidney, I may have to get a little drunk before they read the nominations….”
Kowalski is the thug Brando played in “Streetcar Named Desire,” but the English accent is an impression of Maggie Smith in “California Suite,” a film now largely forgotten.
Tinseltown trivia aside, the big laughs rise from grandly dysfunctional family relationships. The satire is a tad self-conscious in the early scenes, as each actor strikes a pose. But the second half goes smoother. And the fast physical comedy rescues scenes in which some in-jokes fizzle. “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” ultimately delivers the ridiculous anarchy it promises – it just needs a little time.
The comedy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” continues through June 15th at the B Street Theatre in Sacramento.