It’s impossible to ignore the magnitude of dramatist Anton Chekhov’s impact on modern theater. His ideas still echo through the theatrical landscape, and his plays are popular both in earnest reproduction and in adaptation. In the latter vein, on July 15, the Theatre Group at SBCC opens Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Christopher Durang’s contemporary play that pays homage to the essence of Chekhov’s canon in a way that’s consistent with a modern sensibility.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike brings audiences a comedy of family drama. Stepsiblings Vanya and Sonia live together in the family home off an allowance sent to them by their sister Masha, a wealthy actress. They live in predictable stasis until Masha arrives unexpectedly with her most recent young paramour, Spike, to attend a high-society party.
Audiences can certainly expect love, lust, and familial competitiveness, but Durang’s Chekhovian derivation also offers a wild, comedic air and a sincere sense of affection among the characters. Director Katie Laris said, “I don’t see this play as a black comedy … I don’t feel that it is cynical or satirical. It has a genuinely happy and hopeful ending. Our task has been to make the characters believable, to get to that happy ending in a credible way — through courageously making personal changes, by losing something they’ve been hanging onto, by taking risks.”
Laris elucidates further that Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike isn’t a parody; rather, it’s a play based in the playwright’s love of the characters and concepts in Chekhov’s work. Laris assures that the references to Chekhov’s work “will be funny for people who know the plays but won’t leave anyone feeling left out.” A modern play that salutes the classics, ultimately Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a comedy about the clash of strong personalities and familial affection.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is at SBCC’s Garvin Theatre July 15-30, with performances Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., with a preview on July 14 at 7:30 p.m.