Witty comebacks and laughable moments run throughout director Steve Scott’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” now at the Goodman Theatre. The play first appeared on Broadway in 2013 and received the Tony Award for Best Play, among others. Based off the comedy play written by Christopher Durang, the story centers on the relationship between three middle-aged siblings: Vanya, Sonia and Masha.
Vanya (played by the talented Ross Lehman) and Sonia (played by Janet Ulrich Brooks) have spent their whole lives in the house they grew up in, taking care of their parents, who were suffering from Alzheimer’s. Because of this, they both feel like they have missed out on life and have many regrets. Masha (Mary Beth Fisher), on the other hand, is a successful and well-traveled actress. Her life is not as wonderful as it seems, though, and the story begins when she surprises her siblings one weekend with a visit to their house.
The entire play is set at the siblings’ home in rural Pennsylvania, and all of the scenes take place on an outdoor porch. Goodman’s set design for this production is incredible, thanks to Charlie Corcoran. Corcoran created a quaint country house with stone chimney, tiled roof, shuddered windows and a back porch, which faces the audience. The porch is decorated with comfortable furniture and plants, and, presumably, opens out onto a large yard with a pond and an orchard of cherry trees. Corcoran also reveals parts of the inside of the house to the audience, including a front door, a staircase leading to the second floor, a door to the kitchen, a window and several framed paintings on the walls.
Part of what makes this play such an enjoyable production is the theatrics of its main characters. The characters are as much performers as the actors who play them. Sonia (who is not a professional actress) is spot on in the scene where she pretends to be “Maggie Smith” and is sometimes even more dramatic than her sister, Masha, who is very self-centered. The cast is small but excellent, and in addition to Lehman, Brooks and Fisher, includes Jordan Brown as the young, sexy and vain Spike; Rebecca Buller as a thoughtful, aspiring actress; and the hilarious E. Faye Butler as the family’s clairvoyant and eccentric housekeeper.
This is a very funny and witty play. The characters are sarcastic and the humor is clever. But there are also many profound moments. Vanya’s outburst at the young Spike, about how he doesn’t “think much is articulate in the world anymore” and society has changed for the worse, is a scene when it is hard to look away. He talks about the past, from television shows and movies to old-fashioned letters, telephones and stamps. Lehman plays his character as very vulnerable and emotional in this scene, and it is truly heartbreaking.
It’s like the scene when Sonia, who has never dated anyone before in her life, is asked out by a guy she met at her sister’s party. It’s a heartwarming moment, and it makes the audience feel as good for the character as she does for herself.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is more than just a play you go to for a good laugh. Even though it is a comedy, the play rings true to the struggles families face. It makes you think about life and about getting older, and that family is one of the most important gifts that we are given.