If you recognize the literary references in the tile "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," you probably have at least a passing familiarity with the works of Anton Chekhov.
And that familiarity might provide you with a bit of a bonus when you see "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" in its new production from Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota.
The new comedy by American playwright Christopher Durang, director Peter Amster said, is replete with Chekhovian references that will provide Chekhov-lovers with a few extra chuckles.
"If Chekhov took anti-depressants, he wouldn't have had anything to write about," one character says.
But if you're now Chekhov-literate, you'll still be able to enjoy the Durang play. The Chekhov references are just icing on Durang's cake.
The play revolves around three adult sisters, all named after rather dire Chekhov characters by their parents.
"Their parents are university professors," Amster said, "and stars of community theater."
Vanya and Sonia, who have lived in the same Pennsylvania house they were raised in, do little but complain about their existence. They live in the house with Cassandra, a vaguely mystical housekeeper. Masha is a movie star who comes home with her much-younger boyfriend Spike.
It's full of Chekhov references, but you can enjoy the show without ever having read a word of Chekhov, Amster said.
Durang, as most theater-goers know, is among the most popular of American playwrights. His work is marked by satire, social commentary and sometimes a lot of shocking dialogue and imagery.
His heyday as probably in the '80s, when he was a favorite of theaters around the country. But he's never stopped writing, and "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" is his most popular and significant plays in years. It hit Broadway in 2012 and won the Tony Award for Best Play, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play, the Drama League Award for Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play.
This play, Amster said, shows the same outrageous and inventive spark of Durang's earlier work, but also show writing becoming richer.
"Christopher Durang is a very singular American playwright," Amster said. "His plays endure. His work is satirical and absurdist, but I think he's now less offended by sentiment than he used to be. He's not a sentimental playwright by any means, but now he allows his characters to connect with each other and with the audience."
Details: Jan. 24-April 13 at the Mertz Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $55-$69. Information: 941-351-8000, www.asolorep.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.