Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike Review - Chicago Premiere of Brilliant Comedy a Must-See

 

Janet Ulrich Brooks (Sonia), Mary Beth Fisher (Masha) and Ross Lehman (Vanya) in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang, directed by Steve Scott at Goodman Theatre (June 20 – July 26, 2015). Photo by Liz Lauren

 

The Goodman Theatre opens its first Christopher Durang play, the Chicago premiere of the Tony Award-winning Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a masterpiece of a script that blends side-splitting comedy with biting social commentary and moving introspection. The Goodman has put together a solid production, with strong acting and design choices bringing this wacky story vividly to life onstage.

 

Mary Beth Fisher (Masha) and Janet Ulrich Brooks (Sonia) in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang, directed by Steve Scott at Goodman Theatre (June 20 – July 26, 2015). Photo by Liz Lauren

 

The play opens in the home of Vanya and Sonia, a pair of middle-aged siblings trapped, like their Chekhovian namesakes, in a languid, pensive state, mourning the lives they never lived while they cared for their now-deceased parents. Actors Ross Lehman and Janet Ulrich Brooks show off their acting expertise in full force in this first scene, playing Durang’s trademark off-color humor with perfect comedic timing. Indeed, their skill was evident throughout, with Lehman’s energized delivery of Vanya’s mile-long stamp monologue and Brooks’ skillful handling of Sonia’s lengthy phone call in the second act both eliciting applause from an impressed house. Lehman and Brooks were very much the anchors of the cast, even when their characters were not the focus of a scene.

 

Janet Ulrich Brooks (Sonia), Rebecca Buller (Nina) and Ross Lehman (Vanya) in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang, directed by Steve Scott at Goodman Theatre (June 20 – July 26, 2015). Photo by Liz Lauren

 

Vanya and Sonia’s housekeeper/soothsayer, appropriately named Cassandra, arrives and begins predicting doom and destruction for the two siblings, predictions that begin to come true when their sister Masha, a self-absorbed, glamorous movie star, arrives for a weekend stay with her young lover Spike in tow. E. Faye Butler, who plays Cassandra, is a comedic tour de force, commanding the stage with her over-the-top physical and vocal choices as her character tries to change the outcome of the future she has predicted.

 

E. Faye Butler (Cassandra) in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang, directed by Steve Scott at Goodman Theatre (June 20 – July 26, 2015). Photo by Liz Lauren

 

Actor Jordan Brown (who is an excellent choice for a character who spends most of his time onstage in his underwear) brings a brightness and naïveté to the optimistic, lovably stupid Spike, with a “reverse strip-tease” serving as a highlight of the show’s physical comedy. Mary Beth Fischer, who plays Masha, reveals her character’s vulnerability in just the right moments to make her feel genuine and relatable, so that even as we laugh at her exaggerated jealousy over girl-next-door Nina’s interest in Spike, we empathize with her struggle to stay connected to her roots.

 

Mary Beth Fisher (Masha), Ross Lehman (Vanya), Jordan Brown (Spike) and Janet Ulrich Brooks (Sonia) in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang, directed by Steve Scott at Goodman Theatre (June 20 – July 26, 2015). Photo by Liz Lauren

 

Charlie Corcoran’s set design, featuring a fully realized house and hints of the forest beyond, immerses the audience in the world of the play, with the house and all it represents always present as the family's fate is discussed. Costumes by Amy Clark demonstrate beautifully the inner lives of the characters, with the sparkling gown Sonia wears to the costume party highlighting this particularly well. Indeed, the design overall was of the finest quality, not surprising considering the Goodman’s high standards.

 

Mary Beth Fisher (Masha), Janet Ulrich Brooks (Sonia), Jordan Brown (Spike) and Ross Lehman (Vanya) in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang, directed by Steve Scott at Goodman Theatre (June 20 – July 26, 2015). Photo by Liz Lauren

 

Although undeniably hilarious, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is also a deeply insightful play, exploring even in its funniest moments the complexities of sibling relationships, the effects of our rapidly changing culture on multiple generations, and the ways in which we shape and change our own narratives even when it seems easier to accept what fate has handed us. Durang veterans and first-timers alike will find both laughter and meaning in this quirky, hopeful play.

 

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs through August 2nd in the Albert Theatre. Tickets ($25-$86; subject to change) are on sale now at the Goodman website, by phone at 312.443.3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn).

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