Let’s hear it for families who put the “fun” in dysfunctional because, in reality, it makes us feel either a little more normal or comforted that we’re not alone. And there would be a dearth of comedies without wacky siblings and eccentric parents.
In a world where we desperately need more laughter, acclaimed playwright Christopher Durang abides with “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” 2013 Tony Award winner for Best Play. Hilarity indeed ensues in The Rep’s buoyant production of this gleefully wicked poke at family ties.
A lithe ensemble cavorts in and around a farmhouse in Bucks County, Pa. — and the set is another stunning creation by scenic designer Paul Shortt where they can feel at home. The lovely lit morning room, with vintage white wicker furniture and many windows to view nature around a pond, is a cozy nook in the ancestral home of brother Vanya (John Feltch) and his sister Masha (Elizabeth Hess) and adopted sister Sonia (Suzanne Grodner).
Their professor parents named them after Chekhov characters, but you won’t need Cliff Notes on “The Three Sisters” to figure out this play. It’s a nice homage nonetheless.
After devoting their lives to caring for their elderly, infirmed parents for 15 years, Vanya and Sonia have lost their way. The reserved Vanya searches for meaning while sensitive Sonia feels her life never started. Enter their drama queen sister Masha, a movie star who has financially supported them all these years, but lives in her own narcissistic bubble. Best known for her recurring role in the “Sexy Killer” franchise, she fears her life is over, but is energized by her muscular airhead boy-toy Spike (Jefferson McDonald).
After her grand entrance, Masha drops a bombshell: She wants to sell the home, which will displace her neurotic intellectual brother and sister. That not only rankles them but the cleaning lady Cassandra (Shinnerrie Jackson), who declares kooky premonitions and tries to cast spells and curses on Masha.
Insecure Masha plans to attend a neighbor’s costume party as Snow White, and forces her entourage to dress as other characters in the fairy tale. These goofy dress-ups (courtesy of costume designer Anne Kennedy) are not just comical but complicate situations further — and alter a few directions, too.
Durang’s witty wordplay is handled well by the actors, who interact with ease. Feltch is impressive with a heartfelt rant on the difference between the shared TV experiences of Baby Boomers and the disconnected solitude of Millennials playing video games and texting, prompting a huge ovation.
Grodner is a revelation, shading her defeated spinster with an appealing vulnerability. Purposely never in on the joke, Hess is properly flamboyant and self-absorbed as the high-maintenance actress. Both Hess and Grodner bring the house down with dueling crying jags.
In engaging supporting roles, Jackson is delightful as colorful Cassandra, while McDonald is a hoot as the vapid meathead who has no qualms about flexing his muscles. Gracyn Mix is sweet as the starstruck neighbor who bonds with Vanya.
While the plot sometims meanders like the paths on the rural property, Durang’s play evokes consistent hearty laughter because of his spot-on jabs at modern life and the strength of his characters. Director Michael Evan Haney has crafted a crisp production with a finely-tuned cast who make us laugh repeatedly in unison. And that’s a wonderful thing, no matter if you grew up emulating Mouseketeers or killing bad guys in “Grand Theft Auto.”