The Desert Rose Playhouse has started off their 2017-2018 with Christopher Durang’s Chekhovian mash-up VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, directed by Robbie Wayne.
The play takes place in artsy Bucks County, Pa. at the house where Vanya (Jim Strait) and Sonya (Adina Lawson) grew up and then, giving up any dreams and aspirations of their youth, stayed on to take care of their elderly parents.  In their younger years, the parents were professors and loved to act in community theatre with a special fondness for the works of Anton Chekhov.  So naturally they named their children after characters from various Chekhov plays.  Into the calm of their country home blows their hurricane of a sister Masha (Heather Brendel) who left the homestead years ago and is now a well-known actress and an emotional disaster area, having had multiple failed marriages and suffering the career paranoia of many actresses of a certain age.  Masha has also brought along a much younger wannabe actor named Spike (Cody Frank), who is her latest romantic fling.  Spike has a tendency to frequently shed his clothing and show his ‘talents’ to anyone who will look.  Masha has come back to Bucks County to inform her siblings that she has decided to sell the house which she can do since it is in her name.  Adding a touch of the ancient Greek Oresteia plays into the mix of Chekhov is Cassandra (Alma Lacy), who, as the aptly named housekeeper, frequently bursts forth with ominous over-the-top predictions of doom and gloom and brings forth laughter with every appearance.  Completing the cast of characters is Nina (April Mejia), an attractive young neighbor and die-hard fan of Masha who quickly grabs Spike’s attention.
The three siblings are filled with the type of angst frequently felt by many of Chekhov’s characters in plays like THE CHERRY ORCHARD, THE THREE SISTERS and UNCLE VANYA.  They long for things that they know deep down can never be and frequently wallow in the self-pity that such realizations bring, at least in the world of Chekhovian characters.  Even the very home they live in, the excellent and well detailed country home set designed by Robbie Wayne, is typical of the kind of country house setting found in many of Chekhov’s plays. 
As is typical of many of the plays by Chekhov, there is not much of a plot beyond what has already been described.  What fills out the play is watching the characters as they discover parts of themselves which have either been forgotten or buried long ago in the name of survival in the face of their sad (not really) and miserable (far from it) lives.  But in the very talented hands of Christopher Durang, these moments are often hilarious and filled with laugh-inducing word play and well-aimed barbs.  Typical of these zingers is when Sonia can’t take hearing anymore how Spike almost was cast in “Entourage 2,” she consoles him with “Maybe you’ll come close to getting another part soon.”
Although at times the play feels more like a series of scenes linked together by the thinnest of threads, the end result is nevertheless entertaining, funny and, at times, touching.  One such moment belongs to Jim Strait’s Vanya.  He delivers a touching monologue bemoaning the cultural absence today of “the shared memory” and just about everything else that he thinks is forgotten by the short-attention span of today’s society.  But he also shows us that although he deeply misses much from his past, hiding there and living in those memories is a useless and a waste of a life.
But in this production, it is Adina Lawson’s Sonia that makes the evening a success.  In one scene she receives a phone call from someone she met the night before asking her out on a date.  Watching her face as she reacts to the unheard part of the conversation is like a lesson from a master class of acting.  Every change of intent and emotion is as clear as if we in the audience could hear the voice on the other end of the phone.  In another scene, her impression of Oscar winning Maggie Smith as the Oscar nominated actress in California Suite is nothing shy of brilliant and brought forth loud laughter from the audience.
VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE runs through Oct. 15, 2017.  For more information visit their website at