Review “VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE” (Goodman Theatre): Chekhov a la mode

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 Permalink

VSMSProduction_02Goodman Theatre presents the Chicago premiere of VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE.

It’s easy for me to see why this Tony Award-winning play was a Broadway smash hit.  The story has high entertainment value for the target audience, the increasingly large pool of aging baby boomers. It is about three siblings grappling with growing old and becoming irrelevant. Playwright Christopher Durang uses Anton Chekov as his muse.  He cherrypicks characters, set-ups and quotes from Chekov’s most familiar works.  Durang puts a modern spin on Chekhov’s themes of socialism, unrequited love, entitlement, unfair inheritance, sibling rivalry, and unfulfilled lives. 

Although this is a Chekov mish-mash, the characters’ disillusionment isn’t as emotionally intense. Durang keeps the tragedies manageable.  He never lets us get bogged down in gloom. Even Ross Lehman’s (Vanya) fervent commentary on millennials keeps coming back to a lick-able postage stamp.  Lehman’s rant is riddled with humor and truth. HIs monologue sounds like the perfect lyrics for a song and dance number.  Everything about this show felt like a musical without the music. It’s light and frothy and playful.

Director Steve Scott facilitates moments of pure comedy gold.  The impressive Janet Ulrich Brooks (Sonia) slips in and out of a flawless Maggie Smith impression.  The hunky Jordan Brown (Spike) does a hilarious un-striptease.  And an animated E. Faye Butler (Cassandra) performs her voodoo.  The shticks are cute.  Playing a self-absorbed actress, Mary Beth Fisher (Masha) is a hoot.  When Fisher is dressed as Snow White, she tries to bully the others into to being dwarves so she is the center of attention at a party.  Fisher and Brooks‘ sisterly interactions deliver some witty Marcia-Jan lampoon.  In my head, I could hear Brooks whining, ‘why is it always about Masha Masha Masha?”

A lot of the humor is predictable. And because Scott paces this with a slower deliberate cadence, it goes unappreciated.  Very early in the show, Brooks and Lehman are having a spat over coffee.  Brooks‘ reacts with physical comedy… twice.  We see it coming…both times  The lack of surprise results in a lack of laughs.  There are several spots where razor-sharp timing would have delivered more spontaneous chortling.  Instead, I sense the joke before the punchline is voiced and am silently amused.                   

I liked VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE very much!  I just didn’t love it.  The conflicts aren’t meaty.  It’s not a meal of sustenance.  It’s more like having dessert for dinner.  But in the lazy, hazy days of summer, who doesn’t just want to have ice cream for supper? 

Running Time:  Two hours and fifty minutes includes an intermission

At Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn

Written by Christopher Durang

Directed by Steve Scott

Wednesdays, Thursdays at 7:30pm

Fridays at 8pm

Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm (no performance on July 4th)

Sundays at 2pm

Additional 2pm performances on July 2nd, 9th, 16th

Additional 7:30 performances on July 5th, 12th, 14th, 21st

Thru July 26th

Buy Tickets at www.goodmantheatre.org

For more reviews and information on Chicago theatre, visit Theatre in Chicago.

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