Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike – Chekhov Mash Up

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by: Sandi Durell

What a stew! Literally, brilliant playwright Christopher Durang conjured up a way to take all those Chekhov plays and characters, throw them into a pot and let them boil over as they mix and match and churn in one of the funniest productions imaginable.

Sitting in the Mitzi E. Newhouse theatre at Lincoln Center, immersed in the bucolic veranda of the Bucks County farmhouse setting, with a peek into the inner house (designed by David Korins), it’s basically non-stop laughter directed at and by the humorous droll Vanya played by David Hyde Pierce and his half sister Sonia (Kristine Nielsen), bemoaning her dreary life, when sister Masha (Sigourney Weaver), a famous middle-aged actress with five ex-husbands, pays a visit. Think Three Sisters? She arrives with her sexy boy toy Spike (Billy Magnussen) who spends a great deal of time showing off his well rippled body, playing with his Smart Phone, as any youngster likes to do, and stripping down to his underwear saying “I’m hot.” The cleaning lady has arrived and her name is . . . Cassandra (Shalita Grant). Just one more to go – – and it’s a pretty, young actress wannabe called . . . Nina (delightful Genevieve Angelson). Durang has endowed his characters with a chatter of what’s on the brain is on the tongue, as they address aging, depression, loneliness and life.

Vanya and Sonia have lived in this farmhouse all their lives, caring for their parents who have passed on, while Masha has provided the funds from afar.

Cassandra speaks mainly as in Greek mythology, her prophecies, clairvoyance and entreaties on target as she dust-busts, Vanya imploring “Can’t you just say good-morning?”

Sitting in the Mitzi E. Newhouse theatre at Lincoln Center, immersed in the bucolic veranda of the Bucks County farmhouse setting, with a peek into the inner house (designed by David Korins), it’s basically non-stop laughter directed at and by the humorous droll Vanya played by David Hyde Pierce and his half sister Sonia (Kristine Nielsen), bemoaning her dreary life, when sister Masha (Sigourney Weaver), a famous middle-aged actress with five ex-husbands, pays a visit. Think Three Sisters? She arrives with her sexy boy toy Spike (Billy Magnussen) who spends a great deal of time showing off his well rippled body, playing with his Smart Phone, as any youngster likes to do, and stripping down to his underwear saying “I’m hot.” The cleaning lady has arrived and her name is . . . Cassandra (Shalita Grant). Just one more to go – – and it’s a pretty, young actress wannabe called . . . Nina (delightful Genevieve Angelson).

Masha is self-absorbed and any conversation is all about her, practically ignoring Sonia, but playfully teasing Vanya about his gayness. She’s a perfect caricature as she spews out her glorious film career, bemoaning the classical stage career she should have had; “I’d be the American Judi Dench.” All the while Spike is touching, caressing her and having a go at Vanya, as Masha strokes his ego nudging him to re-enact the audition scene for the almost role he got on Entourage 2 – – a hysterical rendering. Weaver plays it like a throw-a-way with all the absurdist comic abandon she can muster.

Masha has been invited, by a neighbor, to a costume party and has asked Vanya and Sonia to join her. She’s already decided to go as “Snow White” and preselected their costumes as her dwarfs Dopey and Grumpy. Sonia says to Vanya “Our lives are over, aren’t they?” Vanya responds “Yes.” She also repeats “I’m a wild turkey” several times.

With the arrival of the ethereal, sweet Nina, Masha is now worried sensing Spike’s interest in her. She is forced to invite Nina to the party who shows up dressed as a beautiful princess, and when asked by Masha who she (Masha) is dressed as, responds “Norma Desmond?”

Meanwhile Vanya has confided to Nina that he’s written a play about Konstantin. She says to Vanya, “May I call you Uncle Vanya?”

Sonia decides to dress up as Maggie Smith as the Evil Queen on her way to the Oscars. She is decidedly the funniest part of the production as she intonates the great actress.

When Masha says she wants to sell the house, Sonia retorts “And what about the Cherry Orchard?”

Yes, it’s one zinger after another with one-liners that can give you a tummy ache from laughing at the clever brain of one-of-a-kind Christopher Durang, as he gathers everything Anton Chekhov in his boiling pot. The monologues in Act 2 by Nielsen and Pierce are compelling enough to want to see this production several times.

“Beware of Hootie Pie. Beware of . . . everything” utters Cassandra! Congratulations Nicholas Martin on your seamless direction!

Since this initial review, the production has moved to Broadway, won a Tony for Best Play and garnered several other Tonys as well.

LincTix.org www.lct.org

*Photos courtesy of LCT

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