Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com
From left, Anthony Fusco (Vanya), Caroline Kaplan (Nina), Lorri Holt (Masha) and Mark Junek (Spike) are part of the ensemble cast for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” alludes to some of Anton Chekhov’s best-known plays, but Christopher Durang gives them a contemporary spin. In the process, this winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play evokes rounds of laughter.
The first three people in the title are siblings whose parents named them after Chekhovian characters. Vanya (Anthony Fusco) and Sonia (Sharon Lockwood), who was adopted, live in the family home in Bucks County, Pa.
Both in their 50s, Vanya is gay but celibate, while Sonia has never married. They live quiet, going-nowhere lives and often bicker. However, they enjoy looking at their pond and grove of cherry trees (Sonia calls it an orchard).
Their housekeeper, Cassandra (Heather Alicia Simms), issues prophecies and later shows herself to be well versed in voodoo.
The routine is disrupted by the arrival of their younger sister, Masha (Lorri Holt), a movie actress who doesn’t reveal her age but who is probably in her 50s, too. With her is her 29-year-old boyfriend, Spike (Mark Junek) who’s more sexy than smart.
Masha has been invited to a costume party and plans to go as Snow White. Spike is to be her Prince Charming, and she has brought dwarf costumes for Vanya and Sonia. Sonia refuses, saying she’ll go as the evil queen before she turned ugly. Instead, Masha enlists the neighbors’ niece, Nina (Caroline Kaplan), an aspiring actress.
Act 2 takes place the next morning. Vanya and Sonia are upset that Masha, who pays the household expenses, wants to sell the house. This is where Cassandra and her voodoo help out.
In the meantime, Vanya and Nina decide to enact a play he has written that supposedly is by Konstantin in Chekhov’s “The Seagull.” In a scene that goes on too long, it’s an awful play about the end of humanity when only molecules survive.
Spike, puzzled by it all, texts on his smartphone, eliciting a (too long) diatribe from Vanya, who talks about the good old days of the ’50s and ’60s, before electronics and multi-tasking.
Nevertheless, Spike’s transgression leads to a major discovery and important insights for Masha.
Director Richard E.T. White makes excellent use of three veteran Bay Area actors — Fusco, Lockwood and Holt — along with three relative newcomers.
Except for his Act 2 outburst, Fusco’s Vanya is low key. Much of the humor in his performance comes from slight changes in expression.
Lockwood’s Sonia complains a lot, but she has fun wearing her sequined evil queen gown and imitating Maggie Smith.
Holt’s Masha is a self-centered, egotistical woman who has been married and divorced five times. She can’t understand why she’s had no luck with romance.
Simms earns bursts of applause as her Cassandra launches into a near-frenzy of predictions along with the mythological origin of her name. Junek’s athletic Spike takes pride in his sexiness, sweeping Masha into passionate embraces and twice stripping down to his briefs. Kaplan is wide-eyed and sweet as young Nina.
The action takes place in the comfortable sun room of a handsome stone house typical of Southeastern Pennsylvania (set by Kent Dorsey). Highlighted by the hilarious Snow White outfits, the costumes are by Debra Beaver Bauer.
The play runs about two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, but, except for a few scenes, it speeds by. You don’t have to be familiar with Chekhov’s plays to enjoy it, but if you are, the fun is all the greater.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” will continue at Berkeley Repertory Theatre through Oct. 25. For tickets and information call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.