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New York City Theater

"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike"
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater

You don’t have to know Anton Chekhov to enjoy Christopher Durang’s delightful, dyspeptic, affectionate homage, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which begins with “I hope you’re not going to make Chekhov references all day.”

That’s Vanya speaking to his adopted sister Sonia at the beginning of Durang’s comedy feast. Named after Chekhov characters because their parents were active in community theater, Vanya and Sonia are visited by their sister Masha, a famous actress with another Chekhovian name, towing her dense boy-toy Spike.

Complications include a costume party to which Masha goes as Snow White, Vanya as one of the seven dwarfs and Sonia as the evil queen before she turned ugly witch. Then there’s the reading of Vanya’s play, which he imagines is the one Trigorin wrote in “The Seagull.” And, oh yes, there’s a cherry orchard of sorts (it has a mere nine or ten trees).

Will the predictions of the cleaning woman, Cassandra, come true? Will pretty next-door neighbor Nina, coincidentally sharing the name of another Chekhov character, upend Masha’s plans? Will Masha sell the family house? Will Sonia find a boyfriend? (“Life happens,” says Masha. “Not here it doesn’t,” counters Sonia.)

Durang’s gift for poignant hilarity has never been more in evidence. And the superb cast matches his mad swings between silly and sad. As Masha, Sigourney Weaver, having the time of her life, is positively giddy. As Sonia, the unmatchable Kristine Nielsen nails a phone call that, like her life, swings from fear to puzzlement to triumph.

David Hyde Pierce is dry as the brooding Vanya, musing on the sorry state of the world. His tirade on our inhuman electronic dependency (“Our lives are disconnected”) is delivered with the force of a criminal finally let out of jail.

The other actors are as skillful, from Billy Magnussen as the humpy Spike, Genevieve Angelson as the trusting Nina and Shalita Grant as the prescient Cassandra. On David Korins’ lovely interior-exterior country setting, under Nicholas Martin’s impeccable and trusting direction, Durang’s characters play out their delectable dance of life.

--David A. Rosenberg
Nov. 22, 2012

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