By Dale King
Christopher Durang’s comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike – the season finale playing two more weekends at the Delray Beach Playhouse – covers a lot of outlandish and humorous territory in a 2½-hour block of time.
The show actually taxes the audience’s mental capabilities more than it does their capacity to follow a plot. Author Durang – whose backstory could be an intriguing dramatic comedy of its own – pulls a variety of elements together to make VSMS work.
The show comes to Delray with good credentials. VSMS won a Tony Award in 2013 as “Best Play of the Year” and a Drama Desk honor as “Outstanding Play of the Year.” That’s a pretty high bar to reach, but the cast does an excellent job, owing largely to their level of experience, high degree of talent and familiarity with the Delray stage.
The esoteric sound of most characters’ names is easy to trace. Masha, Vanya, Sonia, Cassandra and Nina – but not Spike – are all from works by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. But you don’t have to know the man or his writings to enjoy the play.
Sonia (Marcie Hall) and Vanya (Michael DeGrotta) are siblings living in their family’s abode in Bucks County, Pa. While the program calls the dwelling “a lovely farmhouse,” it certainly looks more like a nice middle-class lakefront ranch with a stone façade – elegantly designed by scenic artist Marilyn Mishkin.
Sonia and Vanya have virtually no skills. They spent their lives caring for their elderly parents who just passed away. Neither has a job, and their way of life has been supported through their sister Masha’s lucrative film career. With her income dwindling, Masha has been advised to sell the family home, but for her laid-back siblings, this would be a life-altering catastrophe.
The play opens with the idle pair sitting in chairs, looking at the lake, watching for a blue heron and drinking coffee. They discuss whether the coffee tastes better in this cup or that cup, and just how many cherry trees it takes to make an orchard (another Chekhovian reference).
Masha (Pat Casale) finally bursts upon the scene, bringing with her a flurry of drama, an endless roster of insecurities and a younger, dimwitted, bodybuilder boy-toy, Spike (Josh Matheney). Sonia’s resentments and Masha’s competitive nature strike fire, and while their brother, Vanya, tries to keep the peace, he is repeatedly upstaged by Spike, who takes every opportunity to strip down and display his six-pack bod.
Sibling strife ensues, abetted by Cassandra (Vicki Klein), the household’s resident psychic/neurotic who, like her Chekhovian namesake, is prone to making dire prophecies that no one believes. In Act II, she even resorts to stabbing a voodoo doll to vent her hatred for some of the characters.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike opened in 2012, and counted among its original cast Sigourney Weaver as Masha and David Hyde Pierce as Vanya.
The playwright is no stranger to satirizing other authors, having written For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, a parody of Tennessee Williams’ Glass Menagerie. Actually, in 1986, when Weaver hosted Saturday Night Live, Durang guested and, together, they did a skit lampooning the plays of Bertolt Brecht.
The cast of VSMS doesn’t get as crazy as they could and turn the show into a farce. In fact, their delivery is moderate and well-paced, giving the audience time to absorb the humor in smaller doses.
Casale, who, in real life, just got her doctorate in nursing, has extensive acting credentials at the Maltz, Lake Worth and Delray Beach theaters, and takes charge in her lead role.
DeGrotta chalks up 36 years of performing at the DBP with this production that quickly follows his last appearance at Delray in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.
Hall is also back with old and new friends on the Delray stage, as are Klein, Matheney and Tabino.
Artistic director Randolph DelLago is also in his usual spot, the director’s chair, taking charge of the on-stage action as the main stage prepares to go quiet until fall.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike plays through June 4 at the Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 NW 9th St. (Lake Shore Drive), Delray Beach. All tickets are $30 and may be purchased online at delraybeachplayhouse.com or by calling 561-272-1281, Ext. 4.