’Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’
WHERE: Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, Mass.
WHEN: Through Sept. 14
HOW MUCH: $60-$10
MORE INFO: 413-637-3353, www.shakespeare.org
There is no mistaking a Christopher Durang play. No matter the topic, no matter when it was written, there are constants: staccato line delivery, dark undertones (and sometimes overtones), taboos brought to light, and the way he can make you laugh to tears over things you know shouldn’t be humorous.
However, in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” Durang’s Tony-award winning play running at Shakespeare & Company, you see another side of Durang: He’s finally grown up.
Yes, there are still one-liners, the darkness creeping in around the characters. But there’s also more realism in this show than any of his previous work. Surprisingly, this works beautifully — a mix of the lofty and the profane seems to be what Durang was striving for all those years.
Vanya and Sonia (Jim Frangione and Tod Randolph) are siblings living together in their late parents’ house in Pennsylvania. They believe that life has passed them by and they’re just waiting to die. Enter their younger sister Masha (Elizabeth Aspenlieder), a famous actress come to town for a visit with her much-younger beau Spike (Mat Leonard.) Since this is based on Chekov’s work (Durang is known for his satirical homages to famous playwrights) family problems come to a head, long-standing issues boil over, and everyone is miserable. But hilariously so — it is a Durang play, after all.
It takes a special type of actor to truly understand and emote Durang’s work, and director Matthew Penn has gathered the perfect cast to do so. The lines are given the pregnant pauses needed both for exaggerated gravitas and to hold for the inevitable laughs; the actors take their characters seriously, even when doing the most ridiculous things.
The standout of the group is Tod Randolph as Sonia; the character arc she travels over the course of the almost three-hour runtime is amazing. She has the audience laughing with her in one moment, then spontaneously applauding her for a brave act just minutes later. In a scene late in the play where she is taking a life-changing phone call, watching the emotions flit past her face is a master acting class. She won everyone in the audience over. She was relatable in a way it is very hard to be in an absurdist piece.
The play itself could have used a bit of editing — there were bits that went on too long, and it seemed to get a little lost near the end — but that’s a minor quibble. This is the show to end your summer theater season with: an award-winner by one of our best living playwrights, being done in a pitch-perfect production.
If the level of laughter (and applause) in the audience the night I attended are any indication, I’m not alone in this opinion.