This event was presented March 31-April 16, 2023.

So . . . kudos to SLO REP for creating a remarkable three-hour journey in the form of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the Christopher Durang pastiche of a play that in 2013 won a Tony Award for Best Play and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play.

To start, this is a work that combines universal themes about families and relationships with specific cultural citations, ensuring its enjoyment by audiences of many stripes.

Theatre nerds will delight in the character and plot references—from Aeschylus to Chekhov to Neil Simon, from The Seagull to The Cherry Orchard to The Imaginary Invalid. Film buffs will giggle at the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs togs that costume designer Barbara Harvey-Abbott has cleverly assembled for a costume party that plays a role in the proceedings.

People who enjoy comedies filled with wit and impeccable touchés will have many a good chuckle, as will those whose humor leans more to Punch-and-Judy-style belly laughter. And those who seek emotional depth will sympathize with characters who reveal through poignant dialog that discovering what they need is as important as pursuing what they think they want.

When the play starts, Vanya (a memorable Tom Ammon) and Sonia (a versatile Katie Worley-Beck) are siblings of a certain age who have settled into a routine that is begging to be disrupted. And disruption enters stage left in the form of Masha (a comical Bree Murphy awash in high drama), the third sibling who left home with visions of becoming a famous stage actor but who settled for fame and fortune in films. “I’m a movie star,” she proclaims à la Norma Desmond, then takes umbrage when she’s actually compared with the character from Sunset Boulevard. “Forgive me for having feelings!” is another of her melodramatic lamentations.

The fourth title character, Spike (a completely uninhibited and hysterical Jeff Salsbury), isn’t a part of the family dynamic, but he and two other wacky characters, Cassandra (a wild and quite loud Kerry DiMaggio) and Nina (a zany and strangely endearing Sabrino Orro in a “life is wonderful!” kind of way), bring out the best—and comically worst—in the three siblings.

Director Suzy Newman herds these talented actors into a cohesive cast that works together to wrestle moments of absurdity, melodrama, and poignancy from the script. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a perfect vehicle for Newman’s talents; she is adept at choreographing movement onstage to enhance the forward motion of the plot as well as the sharp edges of the repartee.

Ammon and Worley-Beck do some heavy lifting as the play progresses. The second act includes a lengthy monologue in which Vanya passionately and wretchedly laments change and the passing of time. “I’m worried about the future,” he cries. “I miss the past.” The audience, whatever their stripes, can relate.

Worley-Beck plays Sonia with a sadness that at times is so heavy we ache for her. But when she and Murphy share a scene that is so touching they both dissolve into tears, it turns into wailing that turns into blubbering that’s so funny we can’t help but share Masha’s observation early in the show: “Life happens, no?”

Yes, and it’s shows like this that help us remember that life does go on, and it can be sad and tragic and funny and silly all at once. Let Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and Cassandra and Nina be your guides for a three-hour tour (with one 15-minute intermission). You’ll be glad you did.

:: Charlotte Alexander