Plant City Entertainment’s production of “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike” is a blend of Chekhov’s dashed dreams and Durang’s legendary absurd humor.
The names may be familiar, but the story is unlike anything Plant City Entertainment has yet to bring to the stage.
Christopher Durang’s “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike,” which was the 2013 Tony Award winner for Best Play, follows the lives of three adult siblings and the toils and dramas that life inevitably heaps upon families. The show, which is named after famous Chekhov characters, blends Chekhov’s listlessness with a dose of modern grit.
Director Michael Mercer said the show deals with serious themes, like getting older, missed opportunities and learning to be content with what one has or has not accomplished, while still retaining mirthful dialogue.
“I think Plant City Entertainment was looking to branch out and do something a little different,” Mercer said. “This was written by Christopher Durang, who has an odd sense of humor and it is a lot of fun.”
If Durang is known for anything, it’s that his impressive and intricate work is often difficult to stage. If anyone in Plant City can pull off a Durang production, it would be Mercer.
“That’s one of Mercer’s strongest points, when he develops a character, they become that person,” Doni Holmes, board member of PCE, said. “He is an incredibly good director, but also a very firm director. Follow his word and you will be a star. He does not allow you to fail.”
There is no such thing as ad lib in a Mercer production, which is essential to accurately weave the layered and fast moving dialogue found throughout Durang’s work.
The show has six characters and those who are familiar with Chekhov’s work will recognize immediately characteristics they share with their namesakes — enter youthful aspiring actress named Nina. Vanya and Sonia are living in their family home bitterly reminiscing about the days when they dreamed about a happy tomorrow. Their movie star sister, Masha, one day unexpectedly arrives with her younger boyfriend, Spike.
The ensuing weekend is a whirlwind of biting accusations, one-upmanship and a large dose of absurdity. Through it all, Mercer said the audience will hopefully walk away with a sense of hope and the knowledge that regardless of what life throws at you, family will always come first.
“First and foremost, I want them to be entertained and to enjoy their night out,” Mercer said. “It’s also nice for people to walk out thinking about their own lives and their own families. I like comedies that I can laugh at and then I feel something.”
Cindy Miller-Ray, Sonia, said she and many others in the cast auditioned simply because they heard Mercer was going to be taking the reigns. The depth hidden within the script was merely the icing on the cake.
“The team he assembles is fantastic,” Miller-Ray said. “We just come and act. I’m 54, so I really appreciate the fact that there are great female characters of this age. I love Christopher Durang so I was looking forward to auditioning for this part.”
Much of the cast has worked together before, which has helped support the family dynamic on stage, Miller-Ray said.
Mollie Anderson, who plays Masha, said the play is a perfect mix of modernity and nostalgia. She said the cast has worked tirelessly to perfect the script and bring an impressively organic performance Friday night. She assures everyone in attendance will leave “feeling good.”
“This show has a lot of surprises, a lot of hidden laughs,” Anderson said. “If the audience is listening, it’s going to be hysterical.”
The brother of the trio, Vanya, is played by Greg Summerall. He said he has been looking forward to the show for months since PCE first announced it would be part of the 2018-2019 lineup.
He said the “absurd style of comedy” often found within a Durang play has been very interesting. Regardless of how many times you may have seen one of the actors on stage, he is confident you will see something surprising from this performance.
Frustration duels with love throughout the entirety of the show. Running at approximately two to two and a half hours, “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike” is sure to be a production Plant City will talk about for years to come. The plot alone is riveting enough to warrant one’s fascination, but the lingering emotion following the final curtain will cement its presence in the memories of those who watch it.
“It’s just about learning to always have hope,” Summerall said. “No matter how bad things are, you have to have hope. Also, no matter what chaos you go through, life is not as bad as you think it is.”
Though much of the plot must remain behind the curtain prior to the show to ensure there are no spoilers the cast does have one ominous and vague warning for those who attend: “Beware of Hootie Pie.”