Though the precise ringing of their death knell may not be easy to pinpoint, the glory days of television sitcoms are long since past.
Perhaps it makes a strange sort of sense, then, that Christopher Durang would take the works of Anton Chekhov (whose plays beat with the lifeblood of nostalgia and regret) and turn them into a sitcom-style remix set in contemporary times.
Playing through June 22 at Zach Theatre, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” is a silly and rather vapid mash-up of characters and plot lines from Chekhov’s greatest works. With a talented cast (featuring all stars such as Lauren Lane, Beth Broderick, and Jaston Williams), the show is quite funny even if it’s likely to make Chekhov fans cringe every few minutes.
Vanya (Williams) and Sonia (Lane), aging and lonely siblings, live in their family’s ancestral home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. After the death of their parents, the siblings remain in the house, supported only by their sister Masha (Broderick), a fading starlet clinging desperately to her youth – here in the form of her hunky, young, aspiring-actor boyfriend, Spike (Michael Glavan).
Throw in a (presumably Jamaican) housekeeper named Cassandra (Carla Nickerson), who spouts prophecies that no one believes, and the play turns into a disjointed combination of ancient Greece and 19th century Russia plopped into 21st century America.
Under the direction of Abe Reybold, the characters are hyperbolic and over the top. While this opens the door for a lot of hammy laugh lines, it muddles the waters in terms of what this play is trying to do. It’s never really clear whether Durang’s script is making fun of Chekhov and his characters or trying to offer a modern homage to the classics.
The show is also quite long – running nearly three hours with intermission, and the only touching moments come well into the second act.
Lane offers a beautiful and touching few moments when the aging spinster she portrays finally receives the phone call of her dreams and doesn’t know how to react. Similarly, Williams delivers an amazing diatribe toward the end that captures the pent-up angst of the baby-boomer generation.
While the production quality of Zach’s show does justice to the beautiful Topfer Theatre space (Donald Eastman’s realist set design is gorgeous), the odd choice of script leaves much to be desired.