Pictured: Susie Steinmeyer, Colin Michael Morgan, and Judy Lea Steele. Photo by North Shore Camera Club. 

By Abigail Trabue

When an audience isn’t sure what to make of the work on stage, isn’t sure if they should laugh or shift nervously in their seats, it can be brutal to be an actor trying to bridge the gap and pull them in. As someone who’s been there, my heart went out to the cast of VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE as a set in my seat at Citadel Theatre Friday night watching them try to make it work.

You don’t have to know Chekhov to follow along, and you also shouldn’t bring your young child to this production as the woman a few rows in front of me soon discovered (they made a tasteful exit as soon as the lights went down, but they too added to an awkward energy that we couldn’t shake till the second act).

However, I can’t fault the audience for not knowing what to do with themselves or with Christopher Durang’s dialogue. Putting the Chekhovian themes aside, VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE is a hard play to land. The story isn’t all that difficult to follow — the short, short version is three siblings, gloomy in their own respect, come together in their deceased parents home where two of the three live. Through a series of events we are treated to numerous mid-life crises, long monologues, and thanks to a few predictable turns of events, a coming together of the squabling siblings.

Vanya (Billy Minshall), Sonia (Ellen Phelps) and Masha (Susie Steinmeyer) are supported by soothsayer Cassandra (Judy Lea Steele), the gentle and wisely innocent Nina (Lizzie Schwarzrock), and Masha’s very dense younger lover Spike (played by Colin Michael Morgan, who, despite having the most cliché of characters, was the most real and honest actor on stage with Schwarzrock a close second. His “Entourage 2” monologue is the highlight of the show.).

As I left the theater I felt frustrated because I wanted the actors to succeed and I could see how much they cared about their work, but I couldn’t help but feel like the siblings needed more time together and rather than working as an ensemble, the supporting characters took the show, unknowingly, from Vanya, Sonia and Masha.

It all comes down to vision and Director Marc Lococo’s wasn’t strong enough to balance Durang’s scattered play. Vanya’s final monologue does no service to anyone on stage or off. Two hours into the show we are ready to wrap things up, instead, Durang writes a rant for Vanya that seems to never end. Minshall does his best to move through it, but he’s all over the place and I find it hard not to lay that at the feet of his director.

Citadel and this cast have a lot going for them, and judging from the standing ovation they received from many in the audience Friday night, they have put together a play some will enjoy, and perhaps with time, the connection I was missing Friday night will be there.

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE runs through May 28th. For more information visit


About author

Abigail Trabue

Abigail has worked as an actor/director in Chicago for over ten years, and along with husband Jason Epperson founded Lotus Theatricals in 2015, and PerformInk Chicago and Kansas City in 2016 (where she serves as Managing Editor of both publications). When not talking shop, Abigail is raising three padawans with Jason, drinking lots of coffee, converting school buses into RV's, and eating all the foods at Disney World. You can find her on Twitter @AbigailTrabue

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