By Diana Saenger
Let’s Review!Many Old Globe patrons entering the theater for the San Diego premiere of Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” had the same reaction. They were uttering the word “wow” at the set design by David Korins and light design by David Weiner.
The duo created a beautiful country home, set in Pennsylvania, adorned with brickwork and a lavish lawn. The outdoor patio is the perfect place to relax, or as happens in this play, to make surprising discoveries.
Vanya (Martin Moran) and Sonia (Marcia DeBonis) are siblings who’ve been living together in the family home their parents left them. Now aging, they are often more disagreeable with each other.
As the two sit on the patio in the morning drinking coffee, Vanya complains that his is not as good as usual. Sonia, who made the brew, is offended and suggests he give it to her to fix. She hurls his cup to the floor and it shatters into pieces. When she offers Vanya her cup, there’s a similar incident and the audience is in stitches.
When housekeeper Cassandra (Haneefah Wood) shows up, the patio becomes a New Orleans side show as she bumps and grinds and chats with unseen spirits. Delightfully funny, Wood steals much applause throughout her performance.
Things at home change rapidly when Vanya and Sonia’s sister, Masha (Candy Buckley), comes home. A self-absorbed movie star, Masha brings along her latest beau, Spike (Tyler Lansing Weaks). Masha considers him a “hottie” since he’s much younger than she.
Spike’s behavior is so outrageous that Vanya has negative reactions. Sonia continues to throw out one-liners about Spike that keep the laughs coming. Moran is great as Vanya, but it’s DeBonis who steals the show as the uneven and temperamental Sonia.
Buckley doesn’t miss a minute capturing applause as the attention-getting Masha. She tells her siblings she is going to sell their home, and a moment later, she also makes demands of them.
She invites them to accompany her to a neighborhood costume party, but manipulates them into becoming characters that support her Snow White costume. There’s rarely a moment without gales of laughter as they emerge one by one in silly dwarf costumes.
Jessica Stone has done a marvelous job directing the play, based on Nicholas Martin’s Tony-nominated Broadway direction. The play is smart, enjoyable, and probably would have had Chekhov himself laughing at the tweaking of his characters.
IF YOU GO:“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” plays matinees, evenings to June 22 on The Old Globe Theatre’s Shiley Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park, San Diego. Tickets from $29 at (619) 234-5623. TheOldGlobe.org