UPDATE: The run of this play has been extended to include Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 3-5, at 7:30 p.m.
Nineteenth century Russian theater and 21st century satire come together for laughs and a dose of self-examination. The inspired meeting takes place in Attic Salt Theatre Company’s intimate production of Christopher Durang Tony-winning play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.
Anton Chekhov was known for his overwrought, soapy dramas of Russian despair. Durang, a revered playwright of the past 30 years, is known more for his social comedy, so the blending of the two makes for an unlikely pair. Yet, Durang uses the tropes of Chekhov plays and characters to make a pretty profound statement about the generational shift in America today.
Jeff Catanese directs a talented cast in the tiny 35below space at Asheville Community Theatre. Much of the show takes place without the actors moving from their seats. The action is set in the sun room of a Pennsylvanian home overlooking a pond that the characters frequently ponder over. Vanya and Sonia live there, haplessly going day to day without inspiration or ambition. Masha, their famous actress sister, owns the house and lets them stay on after they cared for their parents through a painfully slow descent into dementia. The three siblings were all named for Checkov characters by their literary professor/community theater enthusiast parents.
Adam Arthur is Vanya, who is a bit grumpy, but settled into his sad life. Jane Hallstrom is his adopted sister, Sonia. She is a bi-polar mess, and has allowed herself to be trampled into submission by way of self-fulfilling philosophy. They find themselves unexpectedly on a journey of transformation over a weekend of upheaval. Arthur shines in an epic rant on how the world has lost its way. Hallstrom is touching as she transforms, unexpectedly, finding sudden hope in her life.
Christy Montesdeoca’s Masha is a fragile yet vain aging starlet who brings her new boy-toy, Spike, along for the weekend. She is determined to sell the family home, and spends her time alternately seeking praise and feeling paranoid that Spike is spending too much time with pretty young neighbor Nina. Nina, meanwhile, bonds with curmudgeon Vanya. Montesdeoca is great as Masha. Henry Williamson spends much time in his underwear, giving the audience a dim but charming Spike. Josephine Thomas is effervescent as Nina, whose simple presence inspires and disrupts the lives of those trapped within the house.
Amanda Hunt’s psychic housekeeper, Cassandra, practically steals the scenes she is in. As an over-the-top busybody, she helps nudge things along — such as in a riotous sequence with a safety pin and a voodoo doll of Masha.
Word to the wise: the show has been selling out every performance, and tickets are limited. Reserving in advance is recommended.
WHAT: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
WHERE: Attic Salt Theatre Company at 35 Below www.ashevilletheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, Nov. 22, with performances Fridays and Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, at 2:30 p.m. $20