Christopher Durang’s Tony-winning hit Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike finally reaches the Charing Cross Theatre after a long, COVID-forced delay. Thankfully, it’s well worth the wait.
On a warm afternoon in Pennsylvania, Vanya and Sonia, two siblings knocking about aimlessly in the house they grew up in, are graced by the presence of their famous actress sister, Masha, and her latest (and youngest) beau, Spike.
Cassandra, the housekeeper, has ominous warnings about both her visit and young beautiful ingenue Nina, a fan of Masha’s work who is staying nearby. As Masha’s vanity clashes with Sonia’s dissatisfaction and Vanya’s apathy, the three siblings are forced to address where life has taken them.
Which all sounds rather downbeat, but the beauty of Durang’s script is that it constantly skewers the Chekhovian format, playing on the strained character relationships for maximum awkward comedy. The modern setting highlights the timelessness of human malaise, while the steady stream of jokes and one-liners offset any possibility of dragging us deeper into depression. There are times where the comedy dissipates, and some more serious themes emerge, but these moments are balanced well, complimenting the piece rather than creating a tonal clash.
The cast of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike all hold their own in assured and measured performances. Michael Maloney, in the relatively straight man role, always nails the comic timing, and really comes into his own in the second act. Charlie Maher is deliciously vile as Spike, even managing to elicit some sympathy when being heinously millennial, and Lukwesa Mwamba brings a warm energy to her scenes as Nina.
Stealing every scene is Sara Powell as Cassandra, hamming up her seemingly psychic visions to hilarious effect. The lion’s share of the praise goes to Janie Dee and Rebecca Lacey – Dee brings a cross of Christine Baranski and Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek to the vain, spoiled but ultimately lovable Masha, while Lacey is heartbreaking and hilarious in equal measure as downtrodden Sonia. The cast are rarely fully assembled onstage, but when they are, the chemistry crackles – props to casting director Ginny Schiller and casting assistant Christopher Worrall.
The set, while wonderfully evocative of a classic Chekhov house, feels a tiny bit limited. Though the majority of the action takes place in the sitting room, the furniture remains static for roughly three quarters of the play, and as a result the actors seem occasionally hampered by simply having nowhere to sit.
Walter Bobbie does a great job with pacing the play, and has really drawn the best work from the actors, but some of the comedic sections sagged in the first act and could’ve used a bit of an energy injection. The energy picked right up in Act 2 though, and built to a wonderfully satisfying climax.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike lives up to its wonderfully silly title by delivering a funny, heart-warming play that wears its love of Chekhov on its sleeve. And spoiler alert: there’s no gun!