Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike | The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

VSMS 75Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike was excruciating.

 


VSMS 500

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (VSMS) was excruciating. 30-minutes into this show I decided I would have rather still been at work than spend my night with the characters onstage. By intermission I was ready to leave.

Written by Christopher Durang, VSMS was inspired in part by the work of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. In an interview with Carrie Hughes, Durang clarifies VSMS is not a parody and can be enjoyed by audience members regardless of their familiarity with Chekhov’s work. I, however, beg to differ on that second point. If you recognize the references, you’ll find their inclusion comical and clever, but if you don’t many of them will just seem odd. I didn’t understand the references until looking into them after the fact, so during the performance I found myself only giving a slight chuckle of puzzlement at the various absurdities occurring onstage.

Vanya (John Feltch) and Sonia (Suzanne Grodner) are painfully simple siblings, both in their 50s. They live together in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in the home they grew up in, where together they took care of their ailing parents. Despite the passing of their mom and dad, they have never moved out or ventured too far beyond home. It’s clear they are extremely out of touch with the intricacies of the modern world. Sonia would even be content to marry Vanya—who it is important to mention is not her blood brother; she was adopted—if only to add meaning to her uneventful, rather lonely life. Sounds rather depressing, yes? Off and on I found myself pitying these two, but I was more annoyed by them than anything else. Sonia, in particular, whines and acts out for attention. Her self-deprecating comments are overdramatic and make her extremely unlikeable. Vanya and Sonia rely on their third sibling to pay all of the bills, while they just sit and wait around to watch the birds.

I tapped my foot impatiently as I awaited the arrival of this third sibling, B-list celebrity Masha (Elizabeth Hess). I was confident she would spice up the bland state of affairs on stage. When she struts inside, looking quite chic compared to the dated, rather unfortunate apparel of her siblings, she is followed by her much younger boyfriend Spike (Jefferson McDonald). The interactions between the four are very comical at first. Masha is over the top, and Spike…well, Spike finds comfort in being practically naked at all times. To my disappointment, my interest in these two characters quickly dissipated as well. Both are exceedingly predictable character types. Masha is selfish and is only dating Spike for the sex and to make herself feel younger. Spike, an aspiring actor, is a West Coast, image-driven, airhead.

Next comes Nina (Gracyn Mix), the niece of one of Vanya and Sonia’s neighbors. Spike invited her over to meet Masha, who Nina is star struck to see in-person. Although she is hardly an airhead like Spike, she does waltz around with her head in the clouds. She perceives everything in shades of sunshine and dandelions. Her over-enthusiasm is exhausting, and she’s so over the top that I would assume her character is a form of parody if our author hadn’t clarified otherwise.

There is one character who I enjoyed each appearance she made, and that is Cassandra (Shinnerrie Jackson). Cassandra is Vanya and Sonia’s eccentric cleaning lady who—much to their dismay—is psychic and shares her premonitions with them regularly. Although each character has his or her funny moments, Cassandra’s randomness and antics are consistently hilarious.VSMS 300

The problem with this production isn’t the actors, the directing, the costumes, or the staging. The actors played their characters flawlessly and convincing, and the set was absolutely gorgeous. For me, it comes down to the bare bones of this show—the overwritten script and its insufferable characters. Its themes, such as loneliness, are worth exploring, but I didn’t feel they were presented realistically here. Vanya and Sonia’s loneliness is self-induced. There is nothing keeping them in that house except for themselves. Vanya’s character also seems to be stuck in the past. He delivers a monologue on the subject that, while impressively done, completely berates and stereotypes young people today. As one of those young people, I was extremely irritated by the rant. Neither Spike nor Nina are fair representations of millennials.  

This production was advertised as hysterical, but at not one moment did I consider it so. Overall, it was exasperating. Regardless of having won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, I’m disappointed that this show was chosen to close the season. | Megan Washausen

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs at The Rep through April 12. For ticket information, visit repstl.org. Here you can also preview their 2015-2016 season, which I’m very excited about!

Photos by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

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