Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
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[Note: Julie White is now playing the role of Masha, originally performed by Sigourney Weaver.]
Theater review by David Cote. John Golden Theatre (see Broadway). By Christopher Durang. Dir. Nicholas Martin. With David Hyde Pierce, Kristine Nielsen, Sigourney Weaver. 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.
Maybe I was trapped in an Ivanov-like funk when I reviewed Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike last fall. At the time, Christopher Durang’s bittersweet comedy about three ridiculously named, depressive siblings seemed little more than a trivial, attenuated sketch. I must be off my meds—or back on them: I was delighted to spend another weekend in the country with these middle-aged sad sacks, whose trials in life and love now strike an unexpectedly amusing but plangent chord.
Nothing significant has changed about Nicholas Martin’s twinkly staging, newly transferred to Broadway. Durang’s bitchy one-liners land harder with a bigger, hungry-for-laughs crowd. Performances have jelled, especially Sigourney Weaver’s Masha, the absurdly vain movie-star sister of desperately alone homebody Vanya (Pierce) and adopted, spinsterish Sonia (Nielsen). Weaver plays nearly everything in quotation marks, but that plastic quality bounces fruitfully off of Nielsen’s bug-eyed mugging and Pierce’s adorable sighs and blank takes.
The piece, as you can tell from a mile away, is a seriofarcical riff on Chekhovian motifs. Three of the characters were given their Slavic handles by community-theater-loving parents. Durang breezes briskly through a laundry list of elements from The Seagull, The Cherry Orchard, et al.—there’s even a tender young thing named Nina (Genevieve Angelson). Adding spice, there’s Masha’s manic, vulgar boy toy, Spike (Billy Magnussen), and spirited Shalita Grant as a clairvoyant cleaning lady named (oh, what the hell) Cassandra.
The play may be frothy and silly, but it’s gracefully written and hits notes of genuine pathos and anger in the second act: a touching phone monologue for Sonia, given a chance at love, and a superbly dyspeptic rant against modern life by Vanya. If misery loves company, you’ll have a ball with this hilarious, beguiling crew.—David Cote
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote