The 2013 Tony award-winner for best play is getting its Central Kentucky debut this weekend with Studio Players' production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike , by Christopher Durang.
The play, a comedy about middle-aged siblings grappling with uncomfortable changes, is loosely inspired by the work of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. The character names, for instance, are derived from iconic Chekhov plays like The Cherry Orchard and The Seagull , with a few plot parallels, lines, and Chekhovian themes peppered throughout the script.
In addition to the character names, some elements can be traced to Chekhov, like the central plot's similarities to The Cherry Orchard, written in 1904, which features aristocratic siblings facing the sale of their family home. That represents, among other things, the symbolic end of the aristocracy and the rise of the middle class.
Durang's play, set in current times, also centers on the sale of the family home (which may or may not have an orchard on it) and how it rattles the longtime inhabitants, the sheltered siblings Sonia and Vanya, who never really had to grow up because their movie star sister Masha financially supported them. But Masha's career isn't what it used to be and selling the house would provide a financial cushion for the family.
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How the characters deal with this blow to their reality drives the show's surface comedy and underlying tensions.
Take the middle-aged Sonia, played by Allie Darden, who says that selling the house is "heartbreaking and terrifying" for her character.
"She is 52 years old, never married, and was a caregiver to her ill parents for many, many years. Once they passed away, she never moved forward in life," Darden says. "She felt it was too late for her. She doesn't have a job, friends, or any real purpose in the world.
"To have this house sold would mean that she would have to change herself, which would be the best thing for her, but she doesn't know how. She's stuck in her own rut of anger, resentment, and fear. It's like she wakes up one day to find she's 52 and life has just passed her by."
Deep, difficult change is one of those Chekhovian themes that director Jenny Christian is keen on exploring.
"Change is a big theme in Chekhov plays, major changes, whether you're moving from an agrarian society to an industrial society, whether you're moving from being young to being old — I think you can see some of the similarities in our play," Christian says.
Christian says in addition to aging characters reflecting on whether their life has amounted to anything, other characters reflect on the jarring cultural changes of the 21st century.
"They are also concerned about the changes in our culture and how everyone is becoming more disconnected," Christian says. "People don't have the same common shared experiences as they once did."
Christian says you don't have to be a Chekhov fan, or even to have ever heard of him, to enjoy the show.
"If have no idea who Anton Chekhov is, it does not affect your viewing of this play," says Christian. "If you have read (Chekhov) and just don't like it, that shouldn't let you stand in the way of this play."
In other words, the play stands on its own. Chekhov fans might hear some familiar lines or some tongue-in-cheek nods to his work, but these are not the thrust of the show.
"I think people who are fans would really appreciate it," says Christian, "and people who are just there to see a good play will appreciate it too."
"There are some wonderful, hilarious, wicked and touching moments in this show," Darden says. "My favorite message in this play is hope. This especially rings true for my character. Losing hope, being afraid to hope, daring to hope. Never losing hope even when it's nowhere to be found."