Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Forest Moon Theater
Review by Garrett Southerland

Also see Garrett's review of Junk

Chris Brown, Morrisa Nagel, Tim Fitch,
Christine Rogers, and Amanda Axelrod

Photo by David Leone
To fans of Anton Chekhov, the names Vanya, Sonia, and Masha are quite familiar. And in Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which won the 2013 Tony Award for Best New Play, the use of those names is no coincidence. The play's three main characters are siblings named by parents who were avid fans of the famous Russian playwright. As for Spike, he is your first clue that something more might be going on. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, currently in production by Forest Moon Theater in Wake Forest through June 23, is a far cry from any of Chekov's classic works, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Vanya (the perfectly dry-witted Chris Brown) lives with his adopted sister Sonia (a hilarious Morrisa Nagel) in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. After fifteen years spent caring for their ailing parents, now dead, Vanya and Sonia know no life outside of their childhood home. This odd couple has settled into a life of strained companionship, neither having married or developed any meaningful relationships outside of their immediate family—unless you count Cassandra (a delightful Shana Fisher), their housekeeper with uncanny if annoying clairvoyant skills. This isolated existence has been financed by their sister Masha (the wonderful Christine Rogers), who has enjoyed a lucrative career as a film actress. Masha's sudden arrival with her boy toy Spike (the strikingly handsome Tim Fitch) in tow sets in motion a plot that involves a costume party and its aftermath.

At first glance it might seem that nothing past those names comes directly from Chekov. But Durang has woven numerous other references (both to Chekov and many other plays) into the text, the plot, and its themes, all treated with a quirky humor. Beyond the play's focus on the complexities of family relationships, it also deals with the loss of nostalgia and the struggle to accept change. It's not necessary to have a deep knowledge of Chekhov's plays or theater in general, but that does help one to appreciate much of the humor even more.

Director Mike McGee, a Forest Moon favorite, and his creative team have put together a satisfying production, but overall this play is little more than a sophomoric diversion that pays absurd homage to the works of Anton Chekhov. Humor abounds, though, and this cast, including the talented Amanda Axelrod as a visiting neighbor, gamely lean into every absurd moment. That's enough to send you home with at least a lighthearted smile.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, through June 23, 2019, at Forest Moon Theater, Renaissance Centre, 405 S. Brooks St. Wake Forest NC. Tickets can be purchased at or by phone at 919-435-9458.

Playwright: Christopher Durang
Director: Mike McGee
Assistant Director: Rachel Veazey
Set Design: Erin Irvin
Costume Design: Gayle Jordan
Lighting Design: Alyssa Petrone
Sound Design: Tom Arman

Vanya: Chris Brown
Sonia: Morrisa Nagel
Masha: Christine Rogers
Spike: Tim Fitch
Nina: Amanda Axelrod
Cassandra: Shana Fisher