Aging siblings must confront one another, mortality, and the meaning of life as they decide what will become of their family’s longtime country home. If this situation sounds familiar, it should. A little over 100 years ago, the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov employed it, or something very much like it, in a series of plays — The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, and The Cherry Orchard — that are widely considered to be among the key founding works of modern theater. In PCPA’s splendid new production of Christopher Durang’s Chekhovian comic reverie, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the great playwright’s keenly ironic sense of compassion is alive and well and living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on the final weekend of August 2008.
If this all sounds like an impossibly inside theater joke, designed to amuse those in the know and mystify all others, that’s only partially true. Yes, there are myriad references, not so much to Chekhov, as to late-20th-century pop culture, camp division. Maggie Smith in California Suite, anyone? Got that? How about the tragic fall of Disney teen star Tommy Kirk, he of Old Yeller and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini? Yet apart from the laborious hauling out of these somewhat arcane cultural references, and the doldrums occasionally induced by overlabored exposition in the first half, this show stays light on its feet, thanks to smart direction by Mark Booher and an exceptionally able and game cast.
Polly Firestone Walker handles the treacherously histrionic role of Masha, the celebrity sister, with sensitivity and aplomb, successfully bringing out what’s sympathetic about Masha from beneath the avalanche of her verbalized insecurities.
As Vanya, Peter S. Hadres delivers in several key moments, including a spectacular second-act monologue. His rapport with the other characters, especially the other women —Sonia (Anne Guynn), Nina (Madison Shaheen), and Cassandra (Annali Fuchs-Wackowski) — makes Vanya the emotional center of the story. As boytoy Spike, Sam Bravo (!) preens, makes malaprops, and strips at the drop of about anything. What more could one ask for in a boytoy? Is Spike a good guy? See the show in Solvang, and you will find out. And see it also for Anne Guynn’s wonderfully specific and restrained turn as Sonia, and for Madison Shaheen’s marvelous entrance as a costume party princess, and for much more in this charming production.
PCPA presents Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Solvang Festival Theater (420 2nd St., Solvang) through July 22. See pcpa.org.