Arts & Culture

‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,’ playing in Cambria, is worth seeing

From left to right, Jill Turnbow, Wade Tillotson, Susie Fulton and Oz Barron star in ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ in Cambria through Nov. 8.
From left to right, Jill Turnbow, Wade Tillotson, Susie Fulton and Oz Barron star in ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ in Cambria through Nov. 8. Courtesy photo

Recipe for a hilarious unique play: Take a large amount of Chekhov, a handful of Greek mythology, equal portions of any quality comedy, a sprinkle of Walt Disney and toss in a blender.

Few plays are worth seeing twice, but the Cambria Center for the Arts Theatre's current production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” under Nancy Green's direction could be an exception. Christopher Durang's Tony-award-winning Broadway comedy is so multi-layered that a fuller appreciation would be gained by seeing it again.

Additionally, audiences might be laughing so hard they might need a second round to catch all of the hilarious lines.

The setting is the present time at a family home in rural eastern Pennsylvania.

Vanya (Oz Barron) and his adopted sister Sonia (Jill Turnbow), in their 60s and still single, have no lives to speak of — although they have plenty to say about their empty lives.

Their dull existence is brought home to roost when Masha (Susie Fulton), their self-centered actress sister, shows up with her much-younger lover Spike (Wade Tillotson).

The housekeeper, Cassandra (Priscilla McRoberts), a self-proclaimed psychic, predicts some consequences of their visit, and then Nina (Kathryn Gucik), a neighbor's young attractive niece, triggers Masha's jealousy and insecurities.

Those familiar with Anton Chekhov's works will recognize three names in the title as characters in his plays.

Although Durang's script is chock-full of Chekhovian references, it's not necessary to know the Russian playwright's works to enjoy this lively farce. For Chekhov fans, the pleasure will be enhanced. Sonia comparing herself to a wild turkey is funny in itself; it's even funnier to know that a Chekhov character identified with a graceful gull in “The Seagull.”

Nor is familiarity with Greek mythology required to crack up as Cassandra zooms around making her baffling forecasts.

Recognizing authors' names such as writer and screenwriter Dorothy Parker isn't a must either. Current owners of Parker’s country house, adjacent to the siblings' home, are throwing a costume party, and Masha showed up expressly for this event, expecting to be a hit as Sleeping Beauty, the Disney version.

Just as Chekhov includes lengthy monologues, so does Durang's script. Annoyed when Spike fiddles with his cell phone, the usually calm and controlled Vanya suddenly becomes unhinged. Barron's explosive word-perfect performance was like a flow of consciousness, as if the actor was having a nervous breakdown.

It's as though Durang jumped into his own play to rant about the loss of the simpler innocent times of the 1950s. The playwright and Vanya are the same age, with the same sensibilities and sexual orientation.

Barron, who uncannily looks like Durang, is the least experienced of the other excellent cast members, all of whom have strong backgrounds.

McRoberts, size extra large, is a delightful contrast to the mythological Cassandra, and glides around as though she were petite. She plays the prophetic character with fittingly exaggerated drama, interjecting comments in a “normal” voice.

With her slender body and blond curls, Fulton is as pretty as befits an actress just past her prime. She portrays the insufferably vain Masha to a T, trying to be youthful and desirable, yet showing exhaustion when the effort takes its toll.

Turnbow plays the role of the grouchy, complaining Sonia as if it were herself, then later on, splendidly imitates the glamorous British actress Maggie Smith, resplendent in a transforming gown.

Tillotson is a kick as the shallow but affable Spike, who does whatever he can to get attention, including stripping to his underwear.

Gucik, who initially appears to be simple and overly girlish, transforms into a serious intelligent young woman with a passion for literature and theater.

Set design by Todd Steeb and wardrobe by Lana Crunelle are spot on.

Contact freelance writer Lee Sutter at

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Friday and Saturday 7:30 p.m.; Sunday 3 p.m., through Nov. 8

Cambria Center for the Arts Theatre, 1350 Main St., Cambria

$20, $15 Allied Arts members, $5 students

805-927-5951 or 800-838-3006