A knock-off of Chekhov kicks off the 2014-15 season at Le Petit Theatre on Friday night for a three-week run.
Making its regional premiere, Christopher Durang’s 2013 Tony Award-winning play, “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike,” takes many of its cues from the works of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.
Durang has a clear affinity for Chekhov, Le Petit’s artistic director, Cassie Steck Worley, points out.
Three of the title characters, all siblings, were named after Chekhov characters. Vanya and Sonia came from “Uncle Vanya” and Masha from “Three Sisters.”
The scenario, too, bears similarities to “Uncle Vanya” and “The Cherry Orchard,” Chekhov’s final work. Middle-aged characters in a rural home ruminate about their uneventful lives and what little they’ve done with them.
Worley, who plays Masha, describes her character as “a self-absorbed movie star and aging actress.”
When she returns for a visit to the bucolic farmhouse where she and her siblings, Vanya and Sonia, grew up and where they still live, “Masha upsets everybody in the house by bringing along this boy toy (Spike) who’s much younger than her,” Worley said.
Vain and immensely proud of his physique, Spike misses no opportunity to strip down to his underwear and show off. These displays shock Vanya, Sonia and Cassandra, their prim housekeeper.
“But, by the end of the play, you’ll find that (Masha’s presence) upsets things in a good way,” Worley added. “It stirs things up, which come to a wonderful resolution, shedding some wonderful insights on the part of the three siblings. Their connection, their roots and their shared experiences are incredibly important and worth not only preserving but worth living for.”
The play is primarily a comedy, however, despite serious drama and moments of social commentary. At the end of the first act, when the siblings are suiting up for a costume party, “Masha, who is dressed like Snow White, gets upstaged by her plain sister Sonia dressing as Maggie Smith on her way to the Oscars,” Worley said. “Much of the comedy is the competition between the three of them. They try to top each other with their woes and their disappointments.”
Other cast members include Jake Wynne-Wilson (Spike), Martin Covert (Vanya), Susan Shumate (Sonia), Idella Johnson (Cassandra) and Sophie Amoss (Nina, a neighbor and aspiring actress). Ron Gural stage directs on a set designed by David Raphael, with lighting by Martin Sachs and costumes by CeCe Covert.
Gural, who has directed several of Durang’s other plays, said, “He always is able to find that fine line between humanity and absurdity in a lot of the things that we do as human beings.”
“This particular play deals with some very basic relationships with the family and all that kind of stuff from which none of us can escape, especially getting old and the problems of aging,” Gural said. “Thank God we’ve got a sense of humor; otherwise we wouldn’t get through any of this stuff.”
Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike
WHERE: Le Petit Theatre, 616 St. Peter St., New Orleans
WHEN: Sept. 5-20 at 8 p.m.; Sept. 14 at 3 p.m.
INFO: (504) 522-2081 or www.lepetittheatre.com