You might want to re-read Anton Chekhov before seeing ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ at Goodman Theatre. Written by Christopher Durang and directed by Steve Scott, the show is a seriously funny play about aging, boredom, self-esteem and sibling relationships. It is also a hilarious takeoff on “Chekhovian” angst.
Durang’s characters are siblings Vanya, Sonia and Mashsa. Vanya and Sonia are stuck on their late parent’s estate while Mashsa sees the world as a successful actress. Cassandra is their unusual cleaning lady who likes to predict the future while speaking in an exaggerated Greek tragedy format. Spike is Masha’s young, aspirin- actor toy-boy. And Nina rounds out the group as a lovely, young neighboring girl.
Here’s a guide to Durang’s Chekhov references.
There is ‘The Seagull’ whose characters include symbolic playwright Trelev (Vanya), aging actress Irina (Masha) and ingénue Nina (Nina). There are also references to theater director Constantin Stanislavski.
Then, in ‘Uncle Vanya,’ there is the elderly professor. The parents of Durang’s Vanya, Sonia and Masha parents were professors who named them after Chekhov characters. Chekhov’s Vanya and a local doctor complain about their boring, provincial life as do Durang’s Vanya and Sonia
In addition, the professor’s daughter Sonja who tries to keep the place going with Vanya, is unhappy because she sees herself as plain and definitely not attractive to others. Durang gives her hope for a brighter future by having her dress for a neighbor’s costume party as a glamorous Maggie Smith accepting an Oscar.
A crisis occurs in ‘Uncle Vanya’ when the professor says he’s going to sell the estate because he wants more money. In Duran’s play Masha says she is going to sell the home where they live that was left to them by their parents because it is expensive to maintain.
Then, there is “The Three Sisters.’ Masha is the middle girl. In Durang’s play she’s an aging, self-centered actress who wants to play Chekhov’s Masha on the screen or at least in the theater. In ‘Three Sisters’ she had a disappointing marriage and is in love with Lieutenant-Colonel Vershinin. Durang’s Masha has had five disappointing marriages and is in a relationship with Spike, a silly, young, actor wannabe who uses his body to come onto anyone who will notice him.
In Chekhov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard,’ the estate is in danger of being sold because times are changing. Durang has Sonia refer to a small grove of cherry trees on their land as an orchard. Her siblings argue that the grove is just a few trees. But the play does have Vanya’s thoughts on how he likes things the way they used to be and resents change.
Ross Lehman as Vanya and Janet Ulrich Brooks as Sonia magnificently portray boredom as they stare at the property’s pond. They envy their successful sibling and complain about aging without ever seeing the world.
Mary Beth Fisher as Masha does a terrific self-centered actress who finally realizes she is aging and has to accept older-women parts to stay in the public eye. E. Faye Butler constantly brings the house down as cleaning woman Cassandra who predicts doom and counteracts dangers with voodoo.
Jordan Brown as Masha’s love interest, Spike, strips whenever possible to show off his hunky body. And Rebecca Buller does a nice job as Nina, a young fan of Masha who also makes the actress feel old. Nina encourages Vanya whom she calls uncle, to read his secret, symbolic play.
Details: ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ are at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, now through July 26, 2015. For tickets and more information call 312-443-3800 and visit Goodman Theatre.