Theatre Review: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike - Toronto

By: Alison Silveira

Prolific playwright Christopher Durang's popular play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is about the dysfunctional lives of three siblings. In his Tony Award-winning play, Durang pays homage to Anton Chekhov by using the playwright's melancholic themes and names of characters in his play. The similarities in Chekhov's plays, The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya, and The Seagull are quite apparent. The premise of Durang's play centers around the possibility of siblings Vanya and Sonia losing their family home complete with cherry trees, as their movie star sister, Masha returns with ideas of wanting to sell their beloved home. In dramatic fashion, she comes home to her family with her much younger and handsome boyfriend, Spike and announces that they will be going to a costume party. The family argues, hilarity ensues, and a dramatic cleaning lady, Cassandra who happens to be psychic, is thrown into the mix for good measure. 

Fiona Reid is a veteran actress of the Canadian stage and screen. Her comedic timing is impeccable and she is able to take the pathetic, self-effacing character of Sonia and convince us to root for her. I howled with laughter at Reid's impression of Dame Maggie Smith, which is spot on. In Act two, when Spike (Luke Humphrey) rudely interrupts Vanya's (Steven Sutcliffe) play reading, he becomes enraged and gives an impassioned monologue, yearning for a simpler time when Facebook and Twitter were unheard of. Vanya's outburst was unexpected as it was out of his complacent character for him to react so vehemently. Watching Sutcliffe deliver his monologue was one of the most intense experiences that I have witnessed on stage in recent memory. He was absolutely breathtaking and held my attention, as he bared his soul on stage. While Durang's play is certainly a side-splitting comedy, Vanya's monologue is serious and poignant. 

Jennifer Dale's Masha is over the top dramatic and is an attention-seeking lady that has to have it her way or the highway. As an aging actress, she tries to revive her youth by dating her superficial boy-toy, Spike. Spike's nonchalant arrogance and flagrant disregard for decorum is at once irksome and playful. Humphrey portrays Spike as uncouth and selfish and his upbeat demeanor is in stark contrast to the other characters' woe is me attitude. Much to the titillation of the audience, one of the most memorable moments of the play was when Spike performs a reverse striptease.

Even if some of the allusions to Chekhov's plays evade you, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a delightful comedy that all of us can relate to. The cast of quirkily named Chekhovian characters are exceptional as an ensemble and will have you bursting into peals of laughter! 

Starring Steven Sutcliffe, Fiona Reid, Jennifer Dale and Luke Humphrey.
Playwright Christopher Durang
Directed by Dean Paul Gibson
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike plays at the Panasonic Theatre until April 5, 2015.
Photos by Jeremie Andrew