Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Written on March 18th, 2015

More Fun than Chekhov

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is not just another dysfunctional family story – while it clearly demonstrates the nasty side of sibling rivalries, it has great fun doing so.

Vanya and Sonia live together in a deteriorating country home, and discuss how she’s pining for him – so it’s a little jarring to learn she’s his sister.  Quickly she explains she’s adopted and they aren’t blood relatives.  Vanya is having none of it and later we learn he’s gay.  Nonetheless, the pair bickers like an old married couple.  They have stayed at home all their lives to look after their elderly parents, both English professors who acted in community theatre.  By the time the old folks died, Vanya and Sonia felt that life had already passed them by, so they just carried on, doing nothing more than watching for a blue heron to come to the pond outside their window. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Into this walks their sister Masha, an aging movie star with a huge ego – it’s all about her, all the time.  She also brings along her boy-toy, Spike, a would-be actor about 30 years her junior.  Also in the mix is a strange, clairvoyant housekeeper who dabbles in voodoo (Audrey Dwyer) and a sweet, young neighbour girl, also an aspiring actor (Ellen Denny).

The flawed family quarrels its way through the plot – to most families the fighting will sound familiar, but the witty comebacks are priceless.

This unusual comedy is now on stage at the Panasonic Theatre in Toronto.

Fiona Reid is absolutely perfect as the ignored and pathetic Sonia.  Only when she goes to a costume party and puts on a Maggie Smith persona along with a sequinned dress has she any confidence. Reid’s Maggie Smith is amazing, and her Sonia is hilarious.  I found myself watching her face for her reactions, rather than watching the character who was actually speaking.

Jennifer Dale as the diva Masha keeps the audience laughing with her need for attention and her melodrama.  Steven Sutcliffe is excellent as Vanya, a wannabe playwright, who flips out in the middle of a reading of his play when Spike is texting rather than paying attention.  Sutcliffe’s lengthy monologue about the good old days deserved the spontaneous applause it received on opening night.  Luke Humphrey is delightfully annoying as Spike, the young actor whose only claim to fame is that he auditioned and almost got a part in a movie.

I have only two regrets – one:  that my memory hasn’t served me better when recalling the plays of Chekhov that I studied in university. The three siblings were named after Chekhov characters by their pretentious parents, and there are references to Chekhov’s work throughout the play. While the playwright has said that you don’t need to know Chekhov to enjoy this show, I feel I may have missed out on laughs with some of the allusions. Second:  I wish I knew more about Maggie Smith’s movie California Suite, for which she won the Oscar for best supporting actress in 1979.   I know Dame Maggie from her work at the Stratford Festival and I am her devoted fan for her role in Downton Abby, but now I am eager to see her old movies, thanks to Fiona Reid’s interpretation of her.

So despite my shortcomings, I loved this play and laughed out loud throughout.  Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is an uproarious comedy.  And even though there’s a happy ending, you know that these dysfunctional siblings will go on fighting as soon as the curtain falls.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike continues with eight shows a week at the Panasonic Theatre until April 5.  Call Ticket King 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.

Photo: Vanya (Steven Sutcliffe), Sonia (Fiona Reid), Masha (Jennifer Dale) and Spike (Luke Humphrey).  Photo by Jeremie Andrew.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
By Christopher Durang
Directed by Dean Paul Gibson
Performed by Fiona Reid, Jennifer Dale, Steven Sutcliffe, Ellen Denny, Audrey Dwyer, Luke HumphreyProduced by David Mirvish, with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre
Panasonic Theatre, Toronto
March 14 to April 5, 2015
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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