Winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, Christopher Durang’s celebrated Chekhovian spoof comedy at last makes its highly anticipated Montreal premiere. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, presented by Brave New Productions and directed and produced by Donald Rees and Nir Guzinski, plays a limited run at Montreal Improv from December 8-11, 2016.
A satirical story of family dysfunction, failed relationships, and defeated souls, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike gives a glimpse into the grim and gloomy worlds of three middle-aged siblings as they reunite for a memorable – and torturous – weekend at their childhood home.
Vanya, a low-key gay bachelor (played by Donald Rees), and his adopted sister Sonia, a melancholic spinster (Emma McQueen), are sheltered cohabitants of their deceased parents’ house. They’d spent their majority of their lives caring for their folks and now devote their idle days to numbly looking out the window and wallowing in the dark and deep emptiness of their future.
“I hate my life”… “I never really lived,” bemoans Sonia in self-pity and in paled comparison to her sister Masha (Stephanie McKenna), a famous, successful, and wealthy movie star who managed to flee the nest and who has since seemingly led an enviable, eventful existence. A few years past her prime, though, she’s got five failed marriages under her belt and a dwindling career to back her dissatisfied, narcissistic and attention-seeking nature.
When Masha shows up to visit her hapless, stay-at-home kin with her latest boy toy Spike (Sean Curley) in tow, hilarity ensues. As they begin to bicker and old resentments rise to boil at the surface, her worst possible nemesis appears from the house next door: a young and beautiful aspiring actress by the name of Nina (Riva Rose). The sugar-sweet and naive girl proves incapable of hurting a fly, but Masha’s ego – and romantic relationship – are suddenly at threat in light of her own wild insecurity and Spike’s wandering eyes. Add in a dose of dour prophecies forecast by a crazy clairvoyant cleaning lady, Cassandra (Holly Greco), and the siblings – cruelly named by their parents after disheartened Chekhov characters – are further assured of their woeful fate.
(Indeed, the show is laden with allusions and references to the four major dramas of the late Russian novelist. Those unfamiliar with his work, however, will not be excluded from its understanding or delight.)
In a minimalist production of a play that delivers more comical confusion than plot, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike prompts an enjoyable and easy laugh. Among whimsical stripteases and Disney-themed costume parties, however, there is still a soothing sense of realism within the farce as satisfyingly neither of the actors lapse into the absurd or cartoonish.
Brave New Productions here earnestly gathers its primary performing company members (Rees, McQueen, Curley, and McKenna) together on stage for the first time, but it is veteran McKenna among the ensemble that provides the standout performance as the prima donna Masha. Her love-to-hate character’s self-absorbed dialogue drips with distinguished delight and charm. Other highlight moments include Greco’s Greek tragedy-inspired spurts and fits of premonition and Rees’ compelling Act II tangential monologue on generational differences.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, while perhaps unpolished in aesthetic, veers far from the dull and is a welcome addition to the Montreal holiday season calendar as a lighthearted, joyful play on family, relationships, and aging. Furthermore, it’s an early gift for thespians and theatre lovers alike as an homage to arguably one of our finest playwrights.
Don’t miss Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike presented by Brave New Productions, which runs at Montreal Improv (3697 Boul St-Laurent, Montreal H2X 2V7) until Sunday, December 11th 2016. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door, online at www.bravenewproductions.com, or by calling the box office at (514) 507-3535.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon