The new play by Christopher Durang moved to Broadway from a production that premiered at Lincoln Center last spring. Under the direction of Nicholas Martin, this production has found its pace and maintains a steady course. Even when the play comes to quieter, more introspective moments, it doesn’t bog down. Durang peppers the play with multiple references to Chekov plays, but it never seems to get quite as maudlin as Chekov. Also, not to worry, you don’t need to be completely up on your Chekov to enjoy this thoroughly satisfying play.
Siblings Vanya (David Hyde Pierce), Sonia (Kristin Nielsen), and Masha (Sigourney Weaver) had parents who were academic types and loved Chekov and community theatre. Vanya and Sonia, both in their 50s, are living in a lovely farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. They stayed at home to help take care of their mentally impaired parents while their sister Masha went off to become rich and at least quasi-famous. Vanya and Sonia’s relationship could best be described as that of an old married couple, rather than brother and sister. Vanya has learned to live within the bounds of resignation that his life is as good as it’s going to get. Sonia, on the other hand is bi-polar and not satisfied with her life. When Vanya suggests that antidepressants have helped many people, she responds: “If everyone took antidepressants, Chekhov would have had nothing to write about.” And she has a point.
Their sister Masha is a film star known for second-rate horror films. She hasn’t been home much but it appears her stardom paid to keep the house (which she owns) up and running. She has arrived home for the weekend to tell her siblings she is selling the house. With her is her young boy-toy, Spike (Billy Magnussen). He spends most of the play in varied states of undressed (mind you, I’m not complaining).
The house-keeper, Cassandra (Shalita Grant), is also a mystic who keeps falling into a trance and portending doom and gloom. The spritely neighbor girl, Nina (Genevieve Angelson), wants more than anything to be a serious actress and has glommed onto Masha.
Ms. Weaver is divine as Masha, the self-absorbed actress who long fled this stodgy cottage for fame and fortune. As Vanya, David Hyde Pierce is marvelously droll and has a wonderfully delivered melt-down in the second act where he maniacally pines for a time when you licked postage stamps and had to actually dial a rotary-dial phone with your finger, “it could take hours to dial the phone.” Kristine Nielsen as Sonia is magnificent. She does a spot-on, hilarious impersonation of Dame Maggie Smith.
As act one ends, Vanya and Sonia accompany Masha and Spike to a costume party. Act two begins with the couples coming home from the party. It seems that Sonia’s impersonation of Dame Maggie Smith has attracted the eye of a gentleman caller at the party.
Sitting at center stage facing the audience, Ms. Nielsen delivers a beautiful monologue. She is on a phone conversation; on the other end of the line is the man from the party calling to ask her out. Her realization that her life doesn’t need to be boring, and that someone might actually like her for her, is a heart-warming moment in the play. Ms. Nielsen is, simply put, a delight in this role.
Shalita Grant as the snarly housekeeper and clairvoyant Cassandra is blunt and uproarious. Her strange warning to “beware of Hootie Pie” is one of those lines that will be quoted by geeky theatre-lovers for years to come. As the sexy but dumb Spike, Billy Magnussen knocks it out of the park as he hyperactively bounces around the stage.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike gives you more laughs per minute than anything that has been on Broadway this season. Run, don’t walk to see this rollicking good evening in the theatre.
View complete production credits at IBDB.com.