One of the questions often asked of performers in interviews is, “Why do you involve yourself in community theatre?” “A recurring response from the cast of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” the upcoming production from the Visalia Community Players, was surprising. While responses such as, creative expression, artistic exploration, invention, or fantasy are ever-present, the idea of friendship was a common thread with this cast.
People who participate in community theatre are a microcosm of the larger community. Individuals of like minds find themselves in a committed group working toward a common goal. Several of the cast of this production talked about friendship. Some talked of friendships made decades ago that are still valuable as they re-connect at this time, and some of new friendships kindled with this experience. Several spoke of these friends as more like family, with all of the love, dysfunction, support, and rivalry that goes with it.
Playwright, Christopher Durang, in his own words: “My play is not a Chekhov parody…I take Chekhov scenes and characters and put them into a blender. “
The family of Vanya, Sonia, and Masha, could have been created in a blender, but their association with their Chekhov namesakes ends there.
The story revolves around Vanya and his adopted sister, Sonia, who have never left the family home located in a cherry orchard—if 10 trees can be described as an orchard—in Pennsylvania. While they cared for their parents in their failing years, sister Masha became an acclaimed actress who supports her siblings.
When Masha arrives for a visit with her boy-toy, Spike, it becomes clear that her fortunes are fading along with her glamorous looks. She announces that she is planning to sell the family home. Lurking about and providing foreboding prophesies, is the housekeeper, Cassandra.
A costume party, with the participants required to dress as characters from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, generates both laughter and poignant moments. Nina, the comely niece of the next-door neighbor arrives to catch Spike’s attention, and provide the spark that may burst into flames at any moment.
It might be tempting to take Christopher Durang and Anton Chekhov together, and decide that this play might not be for every audience. That would be a mistake. Unlike Chekhov, this play is a humorous familial romp. While Durang is probably best known for experimental or avant garde works, in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, he has created a clever but approachable comedy.
Unlike Chekhov, Durang has written a comedy with an optimistic ending. He allows the siblings to come together in understanding and affection as Here Comes the Sun plays in the background.
Director, Keith Lindersmith, has assembled a talented cast. The family is portrayed by Donny Graham as Vanya, Nancy Holley as Sonia, and Susan Mathews as Masha. Michael Seitz plays Spike, Celina Lim is Nina, and Kim Robinson plays Cassandra. This group of friends, old and new, have come together to provide audiences with a pleasurable evening of live theatre entertainment.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” opens at the Ice House Theater at Race and Santa Fe in Visalia at 7:30pm on Friday, June 10 and runs for three weekends with evening performances at 7:30pm on 6/10, 6/11, 6/17, 6/18, 6/24, 6/25, and matinees at 2pm on 6/12, 6/19, and 6/26.
For more information about the Visalia Community Players and to purchase tickets, check out their website at www.visaliaplayers.org. Tickets may also be purchased by calling (559) 734-3900.