By Kari Boldon Welch

Cottage Theatre invites audiences to enjoy Christopher Durang’s Tony award-winning play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Durang, who passed away in April this year, left a lasting legacy of absurdist humor, with this play being one of his most acclaimed works.

Although the play is filled with references to Anton Chekhov’s works, familiarity with the 19th-century author is not necessary to appreciate Durang’s comedic genius. However, Chekhov enthusiasts will delight in discovering the numerous “Easter eggs” scattered throughout the clever script.

The story centers on siblings Sonia (Nikki Pagniano), Vanya (Marc Siegel), and Masha (Elizabeth Peterson). Sonia and Vanya have stayed in the family home (complete with a cherry orchard à la Chekhov’s play, The Cherry Orchard) to care for their parents, while Masha pursued a successful acting career, supporting her siblings and now-deceased parents.

Each sibling grapples with unfulfilled dreams and regrets. Masha returns home with her young, attractive lover, Spike (Joseph Harris), desperately trying to hold on to her youth and relevance. She feels threatened by Nina (Alana Merz), the sweet and attractive niece of a neighbor, who idolizes Masha. The eccentric housekeeper, Cassandra (Laurel Merz), predicts doom and gloom with her psychic abilities, and the siblings face various challenges as they confront their fears and reconcile old and new generational ideals.

Nikki Pagniano delivers a grounded performance as Sonia, lamenting her unlived life, while Laurel Merz’s portrayal of Cassandra is a delightful blend of physicality, like watching a dance and a séance simultaneously.

Durang’s witty dialogue and physical comedy are highlights of the play, though the production suffers from a slow pace. Described in the program as a two-hour play with a fifteen-minute intermission, this performance ran north of two and a half hours.

Director Lance Alton Troxel also designed the set, which focuses the characters into playing the center stage. Costumer Chris Carter’s designs are both flattering and fun, with Sonia’s silver-sequined dress (worn by Nikki Pagniano) particularly stunning and Nina’s molecule and Dopey the Dwarf’s costumes (worn by Alana Merz) absolutely adorable.

It is important to support local theater, which continually explores humanity and our connections with each other. Both Durang and Chekhov masterfully bring these themes to the stage.