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On Theater: Check off this dynamic Durang comedy

On Theater: Check off this dynamic Durang comedy
Clockwise from top left, Jenna Cole, Tim Bagley, Pamela J. Gray, Jose Moreno Brooks, Svetlana Efremova and Lorena Martinez star in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at South Coast Reportory in Costa Mesa. (Photo by Danielle Bliss)

It’s been far too long since the satirically acerbic wit of Christopher Durang has been unleashed on a local theater, but that void is now most pleasurably filled at South Coast Repertory in the form of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”

You may surmise by its title that the play contains a Chekhovian element, and you’d be correct. The first three characters are siblings raised by school teacher parents, both obsessed by the writings of Anton Chekhov and named for his characters. Spike is the 20-something boy toy of the fortyish actress Masha.

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The other two, Vanya and Sonia, live suffocatingly empty lives in a house Masha owns but rarely visits, being a performer who spends most of her time on the road. Should she sell the place, as she announces she plans to, her brother and sister would be dispossessed like a pair of Russian peasants in a play by you know who.

When the four get together, comedic havoc reigns, robustly spiced by the clairvoyant cleaning lady, appropriately called Cassandra, and a nubile young budding actress, also with an appropriate name, Nina. And, shades of “The Seagull,” they read Vanya’s original play together.

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All six are admirable, but the centerpiece is the over-emotional Masha, wonderfully rendered by Pamela J. Gray as a dominant figure both to her lover and her siblings. Jose Moreno Brooks as the studly Spike struts his masculinity and grabs the spotlight whenever it’s within reach.

Jenna Cole enacts the weary Sonia with thinly disguised frustration, blossoming when she dons a costume for a neighbor’s party. Tim Bagley downplays his pedestrian character through most of the play before erupting in a lengthy, and applause-worthy, monologue venerating the good old days of the 1950s when people licked stamps, dialed phones and watched Ed Sullivan.

A true-life Russian element appears in the form of Svetlana Efremova as the feisty maid who employs voodoo to alter the story line. Lorena Martinez is delightful as the neighboring would-be actress who headlines Vanya’s play.

Director Bart DeLorenzo has created a comical banquet with what the playwright described as “Chekhov in a blender,” stirring the characters to often dizzyng heights. Keith Mitchell’s large and highly attractive setting provides a splendid backdrop.

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” will tickle both the funny bones and the psyches of audiences, whether or not they’re familiar with Chekhov. It’s an outrageous satire presented with consummate skill at South Coast Repertory.

Tom Titus reviews local theater.

IF YOU GO

What: “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”

Where: South Coast Repertory, Julianne Argyros Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:45 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. until Oct. 21

Cost: Tickets start at $23

Call: (714) 708-5555

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