Christopher Durang and Anton Chekhov.
Although playwright Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Sept. 30-Oct. 21, 2018, Julianne Argyros Stage) is strongly influenced by the plays of 19th-century Russian writer Anton Chekhov, one certainly doesn’t have to be familiar with the Russian master to enjoy this comedy, which earned the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, along with a slew of other accolades.
Durang’s main characters—the middle-aged siblings Vanya, Sonia and Masha—are all monikers borrowed from Chekhov’s works. Vanya and Sonia both originate from Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, while Masha comes from Three Sisters. As an explanation for the Russian names, the siblings’ deceased parents were “college professors who dabbled in community theater.” Additionally, there’s a minor character, the lovely, sincere neighbor Nina, who was named for a Chekhov character from The Seagull.
Set in rural Bucks County, Penn., Durang’s play has the action largely taking place in the family’s nice, comfortable farmhouse, which also borrows from Chekhov. In addition to the country setting of the family home, there’s dialogue about a cherry orchard (The Cherry Orchard) and Vanya and Sonia often spend time watching for a glimpse of the blue heron (Chekhov’s seagull) that frequently visits a nearby pond. Durang makes his own home in Bucks County, having moved to a farmhouse from New York City two decades ago, and the play reflects that urban/rural tension.
“I’ve always been drawn to Chekhov,” Durang told the Chicago Tribune. “But when I was in my 20s and 30s, I did not necessarily empathize with his characters. Now I’m the age of his older characters. And I do. I live in a country place and, in Chekhov, people who live in the country are always unhappy and envious of the people who live in the city.”
The Chekhovian themes of regret, envy, unrequited love, narcissism, lack of romance and the possible loss of an ancestral family home all get their due in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Durang’s play also blends comedy with semi-tragic situations in a way that resembles Chekhov works such as The Cherry Orchard and The Seagull.
“A lot of Chekhov’s characters are unhappy with their lives and regret the things they didn’t do, and those who live in the country seem to be unhappier than those who live in the city,” Durang commented to wisconsingazette.com. “I thought, ‘What if I wrote a play that incorporated the themes of Chekhov and set the play in modern day?’ ”
Theatregoers familiar with Chekhov will certainly appreciate Durang’s in-jokes that are scattered throughout Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, but even if you’ve never read a word of Chekhov, the outrageous comedy presents many opportunities to enjoy some laughs. In addition to Chekhov, Durang makes references to Molière, Shakespeare, Greek myth, Tennessee Williams and Neil Simon throughout his play, too.
So, whether or not you know the plays of Chekhov, don’t miss this Tony Award-winning comedy described as “deliciously madcap” by USA Today. The laughs are guaranteed!
Learn more about Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and buy tickets.