"Let's not talk — I'll keep my sadness to myself," says a character in "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike."
Fat chance. The people in Christopher Durang's Tony Award-winning comedy are desperately unhappy, and talking about it is exactly what they want to do.
Making its regional premiere in a giddy new Berkeley Repertory Theatre production, Durang shows us just how funny unhappiness can be. Directed by Richard E.T. White, a top-notch cast assumes characters of Chekhovian proportions to take a freewheeling ride through contemporary angst.
Is it any wonder that Vanya (Anthony Fusco) and Sonia (Sharon Lockwood) are miserable? Brother and sister, named by their professor parents for characters in the Russian master's plays, both are chronically depressed and living in their ancestral home, where they spend their days steeped in regret for the lives they might have lived.
References to Chekhov come at regular intervals. Sitting on their sun-dappled deck, they listen to birds from the adjacent pond. "I'm a wild turkey," muses Sonia, who insists that the 10 cherry trees in the yard constitute an orchard. (The beautiful wood-and-stone set is by Kent Dorsey, with lighting by Alexander V. Nichols, sound by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen, and costumes by Debra Beaver Bauer.)
But their chief worry — also very Chekhovian — is what will happen when their sister, Masha (Lorri Holt), comes to visit. An actress famous for roles in Hollywood B-movies, she pays the bills on the family home. Tipped off by their psychic housekeeper, Cassandra (Heather Alicia Simms), they're terrified that Masha will sell the house out from under them.
When Masha arrives, accompanied by her hunky boy-toy lover (Mark Junek as Spike), her glamour and insensitivity nearly send Sonia over the edge. Vanya, meanwhile, finds himself attracted to the preening Spike — as does Nina, a budding thespian who comes to bask in Masha's light.
White's well-timed production reaches its comic zenith as the characters dress for a neighbor's costume party. But the director keeps the laughs coming throughout.
Lockwood gives a brilliant comic performance as Sonia, who finally comes out of her shell to channel Maggie Smith in a sequined dress and tiara. Fusco is every bit her match as Vanya, whose dyspeptic rant about smartphones and dumb TV is another highlight.
Holt gives Masha a frazzled, disappointed edge; Kaplan, Simms and Junek make essential contributions. With a cast like this, unhappiness is a pleasure.
REVIEWVanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Where: 2015 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. most Sundays; closes Oct. 20
Tickets: $29 to $89
Contact: (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org