Theater Review - Vanya and Sonya and...(NY)

Finally, a good play!!!


In an expanding universe that inexorably parts us from our comforting past and takes us to an unknown and often frightening future, humor can carry us through.  Fortunately, a new comedy by Christopher Durang on Broadway at the Golden Theatre, “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike,” does just that.  The laughter rolls, yet there is a serious side to this fun.  Be careful, you may see yourself in one or more of these characters found in Anton Chekhov's famed plays.  You don't have to be familiar with “Uncle Vanya,” “The Cherry Orchard” or “The Seagull,” but it certainly makes the experience far richer.  The playwright, known for his biting wit, provides every character at least one stand-out scene; played by Sigourney Weaver, Kristine Nielsen, David Hyde Pierce, Billy Magnussen, Sahlita Grant, and Genevieve Angelson, this becomes becomes a real romp. 


The curtain opens to reveal a relaxed Vanya starting a beautiful summer's day on the back patio of an elegant country home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania designed by David Korins, lit sunnily by Justin Townsend.  As the admittedly gay Vanya, David Hyde Pierce is an anchor of assurance and clever repartee, but when his unhappy sister Sonya, 52 and unmarried, throws a fit and a coffee cup, the mood changes. He remains quiet, but eventually in an explosive monologue, he shares his deep discomfort with the lack of civility in life today. We use to write letters and lick stamps, he cries out in frustration. Kristine Neilsen gives a nuanced, brilliant performance filled with pathos and hope as the anguished Sonya, who has spent her life taking care of her now deceased parents. Nielsen's portrait is highlighted by a delicious imitation of (Dame) Maggie Smith and a phone call scene that is a lesson in acting.    


The arrival of Sigourney Weaver, as the 5 times married and divorced sister, Masha, a narcissistic movie star, who has returned to her family home with her “boy toy” Spike, is hysterical. He is a wild man, athletically, naively, and racily played by Billy Magnussen. She is intent on attending a neighborhood costume party at the “Dorothy Parker” house. To that end, she has even brought costumes: a Disney Snow White one for her and ugly dwarf outfits for her sister and brother, whom she treats with disdain. Sonya shows her independence by choosing a beautiful gown (Emily Rebholz) and it changes her life. 

What Masha hasn't counted on is Sonya upstaging her, the power of Cassandra, and the discovery by Spike of Nina, the lovely Genevieve Angelson; Nina's a pretty, fresh-faced, mature-beyond-her-years aspiring actress also visiting the neighborhood.  Her appearance ignites Masha's entertaining insecurity but also helps bring out Vanya's hopes and frustrations.

Tight direction by Nicholas Martin that focuses on the actors, Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike creates a roller-coaster of fun and deep emotions.  At the Golden Theatre.

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