(left to right) Chuck Larkowski, Cassandra Engber, Debra Kent, Cassidy Manley, Ryan Petrie, and Erin McGee appear in Beavercreek Community Theatre’s production of Christopher Durang’s comedy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” slated April 28-May 7. CONTRIBUTED

Beavercreek presents quirky ‘Vanya’

Christopher Durang’s 2013 Tony Award-winning comedy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” a kooky yet touching look at a dysfunctional family, will be presented by Beavercreek Community Theatre beginning Friday, April 28.

Set in a farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the delightful, zany tale concerns the strife between the introverted Vanya and his more outspoken sisters Sonia and Masha. As the feuding trio attempts reconciliation, a sassy cleaning lady with a penchant for voodoo, a goofy hunk, and an aspiring actress heighten the play’s quirkiness, an essential element at the center of many works by Durang. In fact, a Snow White-themed costume party prominently factors into the action here.

“I really like Durang’s somewhat weird brand of humor, but (this play) seems to me more mainstream,” said Chuck Larkowski, who portrays Vanya. “Yet there are still those off-the-wall moments. There aren’t a lot of one-liner jokes in this play. The humor really grows out of the characters for the most part, or at least that’s true for Vanya, who is more of a reactor to his more vocal sisters. There are long stretches in which he says very little, which of course makes his eventual outburst all the more effective.”

Vanya’s terrific outburst, an undeniable Act Two highlight and one of the best monologues written in recent years, occurs when Vanya catches Spike, Masha’s narcissistic boy-toy, texting during a play he wrote. His rant humorously details a simpler time when typewriters, Ed Sullivan, the Mickey Mouse Club, and non-self-adhesive postage stamps brought America together.

“The monologue was a bear to learn because the sequence of ideas is so random and stream-of-consciousness,” Larkowski admits. “But in spite of its seeming chaos, this monologue gives us a vivid snapshot of Vanya and his postmodern angst.”

“The script is extremely well written,” added director Doug Lloyd, who staged the local premiere of “Eating Raoul” earlier this season for BCT. “The characters are funny and each one is flawed in their own quirky way. Although they are flawed, each one grows in enormous ways by the end of the show. You can’t help but love them. This is a hilarious show with a lot of heart.”

“I couldn’t stop laughing the first time I read the script,” echoed Ryan Petrie, fully prepared to strip down for the majority of the play as the uninhibitedly sexual Spike. “I grew up on a lake so I was always shirtless. I’ve become desensitized to other people seeing me in very little to no clothes. I’m definitely not shy.”

The cast includes Debra Kent as Sonia, Cassandra Engber as Masha, Cassidy Manley as Nina, and Erin McGee as Cassandra. Chris Harmon notably provides scenic design.

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In addition, Durang pays homage to the sensibilities of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov (1860-1904). In fact, the names Vanya and Sonia are taken from “Uncle Vanya,” Masha from “Three Sisters,” and Nina from “The Seagull.” Also, Masha, a self-absorbed actress, is colorfully akin to Arkadina in “The Seagull.”

“I love the Chekhov references and themes that run throughout the play,” said Kent who recently staged the local premiere of “Luna Gale” for Dayton Theatre Guild. “Vanya is resistant to change, Sonia lives with a great deal of regret, and Masha worries about getting older and keeping up with a world that is moving too fast. What resonates for me is the loneliness of the two sisters and brother, and how they’ve blamed others, and each other, for their non-accomplishments and unhappiness through the years. It’s not occurred to them all these years that they are responsible for their own happiness, and that state of mind is entirely up to the individual. (This play) is funny in a quiet way, but can still pull a huge laugh from the audience.”

Durang’s works include “Betty’s Summer Vacation,” “Beyond Therapy,” “The Marriage of Bette and Boo,” and “Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge.”

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