"Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike": A Testament to Love & Life & Regret

The audience sits shoulder-to-shoulder in the tight, dimly lit Bonn Studio Theater as The Beatles quietly plays overhead. The music fades and light showers down upon the opening scene: an aging brother and sister sharing words over lukewarm coffee in their living room. In the spirit of the entire production, this simple scene draws us into the (extraordinarily) ordinary lives of Sonia and Vanya.

Presented by the Boston College Dramatics Society, Christopher Durang’s Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike is inspired in part by the works of Anton Chekhov. This humorous adaptation of Chekhov’s works doesn’t require any familiarity with the playwright, but the elemental and thematic pulls are clear in the show’s setting by a cherry orchard, many of the characters’ names and the conflict over an ancestral home.  

The plot follows adoptive siblings Sonia and Vanya, who have spent the majority of their adult lives serving as caretakers for their aging parents. Once their parents pass away, the pair remains trapped in their home without a sense of purpose beyond complaining and contemplating their wasted potential. Their lives are invigorated only by the return of their sister, Masha, whose fortune and fame contributes equally to her diva attitude and to the family’s finances. Already boiling with tension and family drama, Masha spices up her overnight stay with Sonia and Vanya by bringing along her much younger boyfriend, Spike, and the news that she plans to sell the family home.

Shannon West / Gavel Media

Shannon West / Gavel Media

While interesting, the plot-line was a secondary element to character development throughout the show. Rather than by dramatic plot twists or shocking revelations, the audience was enticed instead by the growth and interactions of the three siblings, as well as several other eccentric characters.

Expertly played by Erica Fallon, CSOM ‘18, Sonia’s dissatisfaction with her life was almost tangible. Her lack of emotional regulation while confronting the empty years ahead felt raw and true to someone experiencing a midlife crisis; her humbled smile and apprehensive response to being asked on a date for the first time in years felt familiar and heartwarming to someone discovering newfound hope. Not to mention, Sonia’s whiny nature became more entertaining as the show progressed.

Michael Joseph, MCAS ‘18, similarly brought his role to life, conveying the complex emotional growth Vanya experiences throughout Masha's visit. Vanya’s calm-natured and affable personality, tinged with self-deprecating humor, moderated the tension between other characters in the show. His overt complacency, however, diminished in the face of change and gave way to a moving breakdown in which he damned this generation’s lack of connectivity and ability to live in the moment.

From her poorly timed entrance to her diva attitude, Masha’s classic story of leaving behind a small town for the big screen was brought to a new level by Marybeth Dull, LSOE ‘17. While she may have lived “the life” in Sonia’s eyes, Masha is burdened by loneliness, loss and distance. Dull’s over-the-top diva performance was hysterical, but her true acting genius was in conveying the transient and superficial happiness her character experienced.

Shannon West / Gavel Media

Shannon West / Gavel Media

The cast would not have been complete without Spike, Nina, and Cassandra adding flair to the sibling rivalry. Michael Quinn, MCAS ‘19, gave an entertaining performance as Spike, Masha’s elusive boyfriend who ignites Vanya’s tirade against the youth. Caitlin Ferris, CSOM ‘19, perfectly embodied the naivety and good heartedness in Nina that lightened the most tense moments in the production. Jessie Shaw, MCAS ‘19, kept the show lively with her eccentricity and passionate prophesying as the soothsayer-housekeeper, Cassandra.

In all its glory, the production was a culmination of six weeks of intensive rehearsals under the direction of Maisie Laud, MCAS ‘16. In her director’s note, Laud indicates that working on Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike allowed her and the cast to comedically confront the seemingly monotonous, but truly monumental experiences of daily life.

“Life is about finding that underlying shimmer of humor in the depression or seemingly dark times,” Laud reflects on the lessons learned in VSMS. “It’s understanding that everything feels better when you add a chuckle or two.”

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Michelle LaConte