By Wayne Harada
The Actors Group (TAG) has scored a biggie for its 2013-14 season: the Tony-winning “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang.
The laughfest ended its New York run this summer on Broadway, where I saw it. And laughed myself silly. It’s a witty and engaging endeavor, with Durang employing character names from Anton Chekhov and sets it all in a farmhouse in present day Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
The original cast was an audience’s dream come true: David Hyde Pierce as Vanya, Kristine Nielsen as Sonia, Sigourney Weaver as Masha and Billy Magnussen as Spike — a motley crew delivering a broad comedy with broad strokes and broad appeal.
Vanya and Masha and Sonia are siblings — their names derived from Chekhovian plays, wink wink — and their home has been the family roost for years. Masha, a movie star away at work, returns to the farmhouse with Spike (whose name has no tie with Chekhov) a could-be actor who possesses nice pecs and abs but clearly is a young boy toy for Masha.
Since Masha had been solely funding the expenses of maintaining and living in the home, she decides it’s time to put the house up for sale, a move relegated by her diminishing fame and paycheck.
Naturally, there are all kinds of familial moans and groans, and housekeeper Cassandra (played by Shalita Grant when I saw the show) steals scenes with broad one-liners. Another character, Nina, is an aspiring actress.
The roles are made for hams, requiring abundant mugging and exaggeration. Masha is narcissistic, with a big ego; Vanya and Sonia think exiting the house they’ve lived in since their parents’ death is unthinkable, since they’ve been comfortably settled without shelling out their fair share. He spends his days in pajamas; she's duked up to go partying, complete with a tiare.
It’s a relationship comedy of the human spirit, with classic roots but contemporary nuances. Masha dons a Snow White costume, for instance, and Sonia sends up Maggie Smith nicely, thank you.
You might say this the lighter comedic flip of “August: Osage County,” the Tracy Letts drama which had bros and sisters trading barbs but with darker family themes. "VSMP" is all laughs. Loud laughter. Lots of it.
It's a property Diamond Head Theatre and Manoa Valley Theatre should have rigorously pursued for its season; "VSMS" was nominated for six Tonys earlier this year and copped the Best Play trophy for Durang. That TAG snagged it is a coup; TAG has not set playdates for “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” a mouthful that delivers if aptly cast.