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Laugh-out-loud play led by strong cast

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Fusion Theatre Company begins its 12th season with “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang. This Tony Award-winning play, directed by Gil Lazier, arrives mere weeks after its Broadway close. Durang’s play presents a Chekhovian family and setting that is thoroughly American. Parody and absurdity are woven into the fabric of the play, but the result is laugh-out-loud funny and warmly satisfying. And the laughs don’t depend on knowledge of the plays of Russian dramatist Anton Pavlovich Chekhov.

The first three names in the title are siblings whose academic/theatrical parents burdened them with names from Chekhov. Vanya and adopted Sonia cared for those parents through illness and dementia while Masha found success in theater and film and paid the expenses. Vanya and Sonia feel the ennui and despair associated with Chekhov’s characters. As they sit in the family morning room, Sonia observes, “We are in our twilight years, and we realize that we have never really lived.”

Soon Masha joins the group. She has achieved stardom, but her five marriages have failed. She brings to the family dacha (I mean farm) Spike, a studmuffin wannabe-actor roughly half her age. Rivalries, insecurities, jealousies, resentments and anxieties appear in the dialogue among the siblings although Spike seems unaware of any of it.

There are two more characters in the play. Cassandra is the housekeeper. Like her classical namesake, she sees the future but no one believes her. The catalyst for much of the play’s action is Nina, a lovely 22-year-old neighbor who also hopes to act. Nina idolizes Masha who fears her as competition, finds Spike attractive as he does her, and overcomes Vanya’s shyness to perform a play he has written.

The Fusion cast is strong. Elizabeth Huffman’s portrayal of Cassandra is too frenetic and over-the-top for my taste, but Durang provides much craziness in her lines. Beautiful Andréa N. Agosto is adorable as Nina, a refreshingly normal character. Hunky Ross Kelly plays the fatuous gigolo Spike with élan and gets plenty of laughs.

Bruce Holmes brings his likeable decency to the character of Vanya. Holmes savors Vanya’s diatribe about the comforts of the 1950s and almost stops the show. Jacqueline Reid plays the middle-aged spinster Sonia with the requisite bitterness and depression, and we are glad when her character has a chance at romance.

It is a pleasure to watch Joanne Camp as Masha. Her character becomes more self-aware as the play progresses and is not finally able to fool herself any longer. “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is perceptive fun.

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