You don’t have to know anything about Anton Chekhov’s heavy Russian plays to enjoy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” But if you do, you’ll laugh even harder at the Huntington Theatre Company’s stellar production of Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning farce.
In a nutshell, Durang borrowed some of Chekhov’s most well-known 19th-century Russian pessimists and turned them into discontented modern day 50-somethings with the same glum outlook as their namesakes. Two of them, Vanya and Sonia, still live at their childhood home in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, which is now owned by their sister Masha (who supported the duo while they cared for their dying parents).
Masha makes an unexpected appearance at the home with some big news, a hunky himbo named Spike and an invitation to a local costume party that proves to be life-changing.
Durang lovingly plays with Chekhov, attributing storylines and maudlin characteristics to the glum lot. There’s also repeated debates over a cherry orchard, an aspiring starlet named Nina, a housekeeper with psychic powers and comically brilliant employment of lines like “I’m a wild turkey.”
In lesser hands, “Vanya” might suffer as the thin plot lacks Durang’s typically angst-laden bite, even veering into sweet sentimentality.
But director Jessica Stone and an extraordinary ensemble turn this silly tale of mid-life angst into an impeccably timed comedy rife with enough Chekhovian references to keep theater snobs busy while the rest of us laugh out loud.
Marcia DeBonis has a riotous, yet heartfelt, turn as Sonia. Candy Buckley takes it way over the top in her flawless portrayal of Masha, while Matin Moran is superb as Vanya. The biggest surprise of all is the heart and humanity Tyler Lansing Weaks brings to dim-witted muscle-head Spike.