After their parents die, middle-aged siblings Vanya and Sonia live together in their childhood home. The pair, whom their parents named for characters in the plays of Anton Chekhov, have both remained single. While they quibble over trivial things like the temperature of coffee, their sister Masha is a famous actress and travels the world. One weekend Masha takes a break from acting to bring her siblings big news.
In Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre’s production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the three siblings unpack grudges and insecurities and eventually try to find common ground. Christopher Durang’s drama won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play.
Along with her glamorous sensibilities, Masha (Cassie Steck Worley) brings her twentysomething beau Spike (Jake Wynne-Wilson) to see the family. Spike likes to show off his hard body by stripping to his underwear and doing pushups. He’s Masha’s arm candy, and Wynne-Wilson gives him with an endearing Hollywood version of frat boy charm. In her relationship with Spike, Masha obsesses over being, allegedly, in her forties. Watching Worley turn up her nose and indulge Masha’s penchant for melodrama provided some of the show’s funniest moments.
[jump] Sonia (Susan Shumate) is her sister’s opposite - she straddles the line between whiny and vaguely sympathetic. Vanya (Martin Covert) is quiet, although at one point, he memorably launches into a heated diatribe against modern technology. It’s a lengthy scene, but Covert’s delivery remains engaging throughout.
While dressed as the Disney version of Snow White (with Vanya as her dwarf Grumpy), Masha unveils the real reason for her visit. She plans to sell the family home in which her siblings live. Housekeeper turned Voodoo priestess Cassandra (Idella Johnson) had warned Sonia and Vanya about their fate, but the two feel blindsided. Johnson showed magnetic energy, but the writing of Cassandra - she uses a Voodoo doll to prick Masha - served as a punchline stereotype.
The production can feel abstract and distant. Through heavy use of expositional dialogue, we learn that adopted sister Sonia pines after her gay brother Vanya. The script is full of humor, but in Act 1 many jokes didn’t land with the audience and skewed the show’s tone toward awkward comedy.
David Raphel’s set transformed the stage into a rustic Pennsylvanian home that seemed cozy and lived in. Hung in the living room is a poster from Masha’s most successful movie Sexy Killer.
The production picks up steam after everyone knows Masha’s plans. While the tension escalates, the humor - Sonia’s affecting of a Maggie Smith accent and the two sisters eventual cry-fest - becomes much more effective. By the end, we’re pulling for them finally to come together.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, 616 St. Peter St., (504) 522-2081