DURANG? Durang? His name didn’t ring a bell with your reviewer, but Christopher Durang is a Tony Award-winning New Jersey playwright, performed off-Broadway, on Broadway, internationally, in London last year and now in York.
Director Jim Paterson read the award-garlanded Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike in lockdown, marking it down as a New York-seeded play demanding discovery in old York in a Settlement Players premiere.
How right he is, his good judgement extending to his casting and directorial choices for a heightened comedic drama that typifies Durang’s predilection for “verging on parody in dealing with issues of mental health, culture and homosexuality”. Or, more expressly here in this 2013 play, modern-day concerns of celebrity, social networking and the troubling onset of middle age in a world blighted with Chekhovian ennui.
Echoes of Neil Simon’s comedies and Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods permeate through Durang’s tale, as does his flair for metadrama. Vanya (Mick Liversidge) and his adopted sister Sonia (Victoria Delaney) were named by their parents after Chekhov characters from Uncle Vanya.
So too was their famous film-star sister Masha (Susannah Baines), from The Seagull. Not so Spike (Andrew Roberts), her latest bit of stud-muffin from La-La-Land, who turns up impromptu with the vainglorious, needy Masha at the Buck County, Pennsylvania farmhouse where the three siblings grew up.
Quietly waspish Vanya and insecure Sonia had already been squabbling over routines; Delaney’s gloriously storm-in-a-teacup Sonia hurling the crockery across the room; Liversidge’s outwardly laissez-faire Vanya having a way of being ever so irritating.
Enter Baines’s look-at-me-me-me Masha – the Norma Desmond of the piece despite her protestations – with plans to sell the house after her new personal assistant, the never-seen Hootie Pie, tells her it is a crippling drain on her finances.
Cue chaos, stirred up further by Sanna Jeppsson’s Cassandra, the hippy home help, who lives up to her name’s Greek mythological origins: the Trojan priestess, whose truthful prophecies are never believed. Durang and in turn the Swedish-born Jeppsson play this to the max, not so much a scene stealer as a show stealer.
That said, the performances all round are terrific, Delaney just as good as she was in Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind; Liversidge, with his lovely timing; Roberts, as tongue in two-cheeks as he could possibly be, and Baines suitably over the top yet vulnerable.
Here comes the neighbour, the sweet, innocent, star-struck, delicate flower of an aspiring actress Nina (Livy Potter), named after the Chekhov character in The Seagull that Potter just happened to play in Settlement’s February 2020 production! She too is a hoot in this six-of-the-best cast.
As the resentments, rivalries and premonitions bubble away and boil over amid much noise and a bonkers costumed party, Durang explores the theme of longing for the past and yet hoping for a better future with delicious wit, plenty of grit and a sitcom sense of the absurd.
Paterson has played a blinder in introducing Christopher Durang’s work to York. Don’t miss it; the run from Thursday to today is way too short. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.