Review: VANYA, SONIA, MASHA AND SPIKE Delivers Chekhovian Comedy at Its Best

Now on stage through June 30th

By: Jun. 28, 2023
Review: VANYA, SONIA, MASHA AND SPIKE Delivers Chekhovian Comedy at Its Best
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The gloom and angst of Chekhovian characters provide funny fodder for Christopher Durang’s VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, now in production through the Crescent City Stage.

If the mere mention of Chekhov makes your teeth hurt like mine, rest assured, this production is by way of Monty Python by taking all that melancholy and yearning and turning it into a comedy of manners with preposterous silliness. It’s hilarious, y’all.

Vanya, Sonia and Masha are three siblings (not three sisters) named after Chekhovian characters by their theatre-loving, academic parents. Now middle-aged, they live up (or down) to their namesakes’ unhappiness.

Vanya (Doug Spearman) and Sonia (Jana Mestecky) live out a dull existence in their family home, surrounded by memories from yesteryear. Vanya and Sonia are perpetually stuck, regretting lost youth and opportunities not taken as they bicker over their morning coffee.
It doesn’t help matters that their housekeeper (naturally named Cassandra) is always spouting prophecies of their impending doom. And then enters Masha (Lorene Chesley), their starlet younger sister, whose life is full of premieres, exotic location shoots, and hunky younger men such as her current boy toy, Spike (Cody Evans), who quickly reveals his abs have more mass than his brain.

Masha sweeps in like a whirlwind and announces her plans to sell the house, threatening her stay-at-home siblings’ existence. And try as they might to convince her otherwise, Masha is too busy keeping the impossibly sweet next-door neighbor Nina away from Spike.

Review: VANYA, SONIA, MASHA AND SPIKE Delivers Chekhovian Comedy at Its Best
Jana Mestecky and Doug Spearman as Sonia and Vanya.
Photos by Brittney Werner

A host of Chekhovian references went through a plot processor, but Durang laces it all with a sense of absurdity and enough snappy one-liners to make it all palatable. And under the direction of Elizabeth Newcomer, this production is consistently entertaining if not cackle-out-loud hilarious. Even if you’ve never read a word of Chekhov (or like me and read too much), you’ll find plenty to make you laugh.

The relationship between the three siblings forms the backbone of Durang’s Tony Award-winning 2012 comedy. Vanya is a morose writer, Masha fears being a has-been and Sonia despairs over being a never-was. One of the best moments to describe their bond is when Vanya walks in with tea for his sisters as they wail inconsolably. Did I mention he’s dressed like Doc from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?

Spearman, as Vanya, delivers a delicate portrayal of anguish under a façade of resignment to this bookish, gay man. But make no mistake; darkness looms beneath that resigned manner and rears its head as Spearman delivers a show-stopping monologue in Act Two that is worth the price of admission alone. Seriously, it will make you Google Tommy Kirk on the way home.

Mestecky has the greatest success in consistently capturing the role of Sonia, delivering a marvelously tragicomic performance. Her Sonia is lovably pathetic, able to draw laughs with every slump of her shoulders and wan smile. And she gets an opportunity to exercise a killer Dame Maggie Smith impression.

Chesley handles the role of Masha with great aplomb, successfully bringing out what’s sympathetic about the character from beneath an avalanche of histrionic humor. Evans as Spike is the typical Durang beefcake character who preens and strips at any moment with no provocation. Is he a good guy? Only one way to find out.

Donyae Asante creates a delightfully over-the-top take as the prophetic voodoo-practicing housekeeper Cassandra. Like their tragic Grecian counterpart, their employers largely ignore them as they deliver indecipherable proclamations of doom that inevitably come to pass. Rounding out the ensemble cast is Yvette Bourgeois, who shines as Nina, an endearingly innocent ingenue who idolizes Masha while also catching the eye of Spike (and thus also Masha’s wrath).

The entire ensemble is first-rate. It is a quality to expect from Crescent City Stage as they deliver engaging laughs through the night and prove that even gloomy Chekhov can be comedy gold.

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE runs at the Marquette Theatre on Loyola University’s campus now through June 30, 2023, with performances at 7:30 p.m. (Wednesday/Thursday) and at 2:30 p.m. (Friday, June 30).


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