Theatre Preview: Don’t Sweat the Literary References in ‘Vanya and Sonia’

Bob Fischbach / Omaha World Herald

Don’t worry about those references to literary great Anton Chekhov in the script of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” You can follow the story just fine without them.

That’s the word from Daena Schweiger, who’s directing the 2013 best-play Tony winner for SNAP Productions. The four-weekend run of Christopher Durang’s comedy opens tonight.

“Durang said he put the Chekhov references in a blender and used them as funny references,” Schweiger said last week. Vanya, Sonia and Masha, characters in the play named after Chekhov characters by their academic parents, sometimes make light of the parallels between those characters and their own lives, “very tongue in cheek.”

But regardless of whether you know “The Seagull,” “The Cherry Orchard” “Uncle Vanya” and “Three Sisters,” the humorous spin on family is just as entertaining, Schweiger said.

“Durang can skew family dynamics and make them very funny while keeping the characters very real,” Schweiger said.

Part of her challenge as director is to keep characters from becoming caricatures. “Some of the things they do are so absurd, it would be easy to take this over the top.”

Vanya and Sonia are brother and sister. They’ve been taking care of aging parents while their sister Masha, an actress, has acted as breadwinner. When Masha brings home a boy toy named Spike, the two sisters feud, and Vanya is stuck acting as peacemaker. Or trying.

“We all have dysfunction in our families,” Schweiger said. Audiences can relate to the familiar caregiver role, as well as to someone who has left to do her own thing. May-September relationships are also not uncommon, she said.

“This is one of Durang’s plays where his characters are not as extreme or absurd,” Schweiger said, referring to “The Marriage of Bette and Boo” and “Beyond Therapy.” “In this one, he takes issues people connect with and puts a funny spin on them.”

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