Sonia believes life has passed her by and resents it. Vanya has chosen not to think about it.
But the middle-aged sister and brother join forces when their little sister, Masha, announces she’s going to sell their house and its nine cherry trees. After all, she’s the one who made a name for herself by making the “Sexy Killer” B-movie series, and those movies paid the bills for the house, along with the medical needs for her ailing, elderly parents.
“She says now that their parents are gone, the bills are just too expensive,” says Blanche Bienvenu, who plays Masha in Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of Christopher Durang’s dark comedy, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” It opens Friday in the Studio Theatre.
Sonia, played by Kathy Sevin, and Vanya, played by Mike Katchmer, have spent their adult lives taking care of their parents. Now Masha wants to take away the house, the only thing her older siblings can call their own.
“The ‘Sexy Killer’ movies have played out, and Masha needs money,” Bienvenu says.
She not only needs money to support her lifestyle but to accommodate her relationship with boy toy Spike.
“It’s funny, because I’m the only sibling in the play who was an only child in real life,” Sevin says.
Sevin’s character also is the only sibling in the play who was adopted.
“It really doesn’t make any difference to Vanya and Masha, but it matters to Sonia that she was adopted,” Sevin says. “She’s resentful, because she wonders what would have happened if she would have had her own life. And there she was, taking care of parents who weren’t really hers.”
Some of the show’s elements are taken from Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s plays, though Durang has said his play is not a Chekhov parody.
“I take Chekhov scenes and characters and put them into a blender,” he once said.
Some of the more obvious nods to Chekhov are the characters’ names, along with the play’s setting in a cherry orchard. But audiences don’t have to be familiar with Chekhov to keep up with what’s going on in Durang’s story.
“Everyone with siblings will be able to relate to this story,” director Kurt Hauschild says. “I have three siblings, and, yes, there is a rivalry.”
But there also are funny moments along the way.
“Vanya has his moments,” Katchmer says. “He rails against technology. He wants a time when people were more connected by talking to each other or through a finely crafted letter, when, ironically, there isn’t a time when people were more connected than with today’s technology.”
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” premiered off Broadway in 2012, with a cast that included David Hyde Pierce and Sigourney Weaver. It eventually opened on Broadway where it won a Tony Award for Best Play.
“It’s a smaller play,” Hauschild says. “I love anything by Christopher Durang. There’s always a message you can take from his work, even in his most insane stuff. This play is very profound, yet absurd.”
It’s so absurd that Masha shows up in a “Snow White” outfit at one point. That was her real reason for returning home — to attend a costume party thrown by an influential neighbor, who insists everyone dress as one of the fairy tale’s characters. But they can’t choose random costumes — their outfits have to match those in Disney’s animated “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
Things get so wild that the cleaning lady, Cassandra, tries to cast a spell on Masha through a voodoo doll, and Vanya reveals that he is writing a play inspired by symbolism in Chekhov’s “The Seagull.” And all the while Masha is carrying on with her young lover, Spike, who has plans of his own.
“There so much happening here, and it plays on the larger ideas in Chekhov’s plays,” Hauschild says. “It’s been a fun play to direct.”
Follow Robin Miller on Twitter at @rmillerbr.