CLEVELAND -- Christopher Durang's Tony Award winning comedy, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, playing now through April 26 at the Cleveland Playhouse, is a delightful literary romp that keeps the audience laughing from the first scene until the curtain drops.
For the lit majors in the crowd, you can pat yourself on the back for catching the references to the works of Anton Chekhov, the seminal Russian playwright, sprinkled throughout the proceedings, but the story and characters play whether you know or care about these tidbits or not.
The story takes place in the family's country estate, where step siblings Vanya. played by John Schere, and Sonia, Toni Di Buono, have been whiling away their lives with little to show, while their famous sister Masha has been making the big bucks as an film actress in Hollywood, most notably in the "Sexy Killer" series.
As the play begins, we learn that Vanya and Tonia have devoted much of their lives to taking care their sickly parents who have recently died. Now they sit in the largely empty family house and with little left to occupy their time or thoughts, fill their days watching blue herons out the window, pouring cups of tea, and squabbling over a great deal of nothing. In a nod to Chekhov, they even argue over whether or not a handful of cherry trees on the property constitute a cherry orchard.
Masha, played with a winning narcissism by Margaret Reed, shows up unexpectedly with her boy toy, Spike, in tow. Spike is an entertaining caricature of a millennial, who is concerned only with his cell phone, media fame and taking his clothes off.
The plot is set in motion when Masha reveals that she has decided, on advice from her personal assistant, to sell the family home and put her siblings out on the street.
Like the work of Tom Stoppard, or Oscar Wilde or Noel Coward, the play is built to a significant degree on wordplay and the surprising self-awareness of its deeply flawed characters. At one point, Masha makes a joke at her own expense, alluding to herself as Norma Desmond, the delusionally self-involved has-been actress in Sunset Boulevard.
While the Cleveland Playhouse may not have the star power of the play's New York debut in 2012 with David Hyde Pierce as Vanya and Sigourney Weaver as Masha, Director Bruce Jordan and the excellent cast time every moment to perfection, bringing off this high-end farce, with all its implied musicality and knowing humor.
A standout performance by Danielle Lee Greaves as Cassandra, the soothsaying housekeeper who drives much of the action, heightens the festivities and adds a dimension that may not have been present in the New York staging and was likely not as prominent in Durang's script. Maren Bush, who plays an aspiring actress and neighbor, is also charming in her role and shines brightly even though her stage time is limited.
Middlebrow disclosure: Apart from the well-mounted show, going to see a play at the newly designed, stunning Playhouse Square theater district in Cleveland offers the advantage of easy parking, no traffic issues, and bountiful dinner options within a few blocks of the shows, with no reservations needed. Sweet!