×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Legit Review: ‘Vanya and Sonia’ Is Silly, Smart Mashup

Christopher Durang comedy transfers to Broadway with full cast, including Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce, intact.

Christopher Durang’s play “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” opened March 14 at Broadway’s John Golden Theater following an Off Broadway run at Lincoln Center Theater, where the show opened in the fall. The following is Marilyn Stasio’s review of the Off Broadway production, which ran in Variety Nov. 12. Credits have been updated below to reflect changes for the Broadway transfer.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is brainy and witty and clever and cute. Christopher Durang’s surreal comedy of manners answers that perennial prayer for shows with higher aspirations than to pass themselves off as sitcoms. In a great leap of imagination, Durang lifts characters and storylines from four Chekhov plays (plus a tragedy by Aeschylus) and transplants them from provincial Russia to present-day Bucks County. In this hilarious mashup, classic themes of existential loss and longing are given a modern spin and endlessly inventive comic twists for an inspired cast led by Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce.

David Korins’ romantic set (bathed in Justin Townsend’s limpid lighting) of an old stone house in bucolic Bucks County is an authentic American version of those Russian country estates that represent heaven-on-earth to characters in Chekhov’s plays.

Vanya, who is played by that king of deadpan, Pierce, and his half-sister Sonia (Kristine Nielsen, another regal clown) are also familiar figures. Like their namesakes in “Uncle Vanya,” they’re the poor, forgotten drudges who have wasted their lives working to keep up the family estate while their glamorous sibling, Masha (frequent Durang collaborator Weaver, as funny as you’ve ever seen her), swans around the world becoming rich and famous and completely forgetful of them.

Vanya and Sonia are the very models of midlife discontent, disappointment and despair. As perfectly matched as a salt-and-pepper set, Pierce and Nielsen play the pathos of this wretched pair without acknowledging the howling humor of their lugubrious characters.

Borrowing freely from other plays, Sonia sighs over the beautiful blue heron that comes to feed at the pond, and compares herself to a wild turkey. She also declares herself to be in mourning for her life. Which causes Vanya to snap: “I hope you’re not going to make Chekhov references all day.” Durang is a master of the whiplash one-liner, and Pierce and Nielsen are masters at delivering them with perfectly straight faces.

Observing her own midlife crisis in her own flamboyant style, Masha bursts on the scene in a spectacular wardrobe (by Emily Rebholz) and towing her current boytoy, Spike, a narcissistic exhibitionist in Billy Magnussen’s uninhibited performance. Ignoring the dark warnings from housekeeper Cassandra (Shalita Grant), Masha bullies everyone in her domestic kingdom. Eyes glittering with gleeful malice, she takes satisfaction in admitting that she’s a monster — “but a lovable one.”

Monster she may be, but Masha is also tragically funny when Nina, a lovely naif played by Genevieve Angelson, wanders in from “The Seagull” to dash her schemes to bits. It’s youth and innocence against age and exhaustion, and we all know how that’s going to end. But not without a fight — and many, many laughs.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

John Golden Theater; 787 seats; $130 top

A Joey Parnes, Larry Hirschhorn, Joan Raffe/Jhett Tolentino, Martin Platt and David Elliott, Pat Addiss, Catherine Adler, John O’Boyle, Joshua Goodman, Jamie deRoy/Richard Winkler, Cricket Hooper Jiranek/Michael Palitz, Mark S. Golub & David S. Golub, Radio Mouse Entertainment, ShadowCatcher Entertainment, Hugh Hysell, Mary Cossette/Barbara Manocherian, Cheryl Wiesenfeld/Ron Simons, S.D. Wagner and John Johnson presentation, in association with McCarter Theatre Center and Lincoln Center Theater, of a play in two acts by Christopher Durang. Directed by Nicholas Martin.

Set, David Korins; costumes, Emily Rebholz; lighting, Julian Townsend; original music & sound, Mark Bennett; production stage manager, Denise Yaney. Opened Off Broadway Nov. 12, 2012. Reviewed Nov. 9. Opened on Broadway March 14, 2013. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Vanya — David Hyde Pierce

Sonia — Kristine Nielsen

Cassandra  Shalita Grant

Masha  Sigourney Weaver

Spike — Billy Magnussen

Nina — Genevieve Angelson

Legit Review: 'Vanya and Sonia' Is Silly, Smart Mashup

More Legit

  • Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow'Hillary and Clinton'

    Why John Lithgow Worried About Starring in Broadway's 'Hillary and Clinton'

    When Lucas Hnath first conceived of “Hillary and Clinton” in 2008, he was writing for and about a very different America. Now, a total reimagining of the show has made its way to Broadway with Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the titular roles. At the opening on Thursday night, the cast and creatives talked [...]

  • Three Sisters review

    London Theater Review: 'Three Sisters'

    Ennui has become exhaustion in playwright Cordelia Lynn’s new version of “Three Sisters.” The word recurs and recurs. Everyone on the Prozorov estate is worn out; too “overworked” to do anything but sit around idle. Are they killing time or is time killing them? Either way, a play often framed as a study of boredom [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Took 12 Years to Get to Broadway, but It's More Relevant Than Ever

    When “Hadestown” was first staged as a tiny, DIY theater project in Vermont, those involved could never have predicted that it was the start of a 12-year journey to Broadway — or how painfully relevant it would be when it arrived. At Wednesday night’s opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the cast and creatives discussed [...]

  • Hillary and Clinton review

    Broadway Review: Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in 'Hillary and Clinton'

    If anyone could play Hillary Clinton, it’s Laurie Metcalf – and here she is, in Lucas Hnath’s “Hillary and Clinton,” giving a performance that feels painfully honest and true. And if anyone could capture Bill Clinton’s feckless but irresistible charm, that would be John Lithgow – and here he is, too. Who better to work [...]

  • Hadestown review

    Broadway Review: 'Hadestown'

    “Hadestown” triggered a lot of buzz when this wholly American show (which came to the stage by way of a concept album) premiered at Off Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop in 2016. Arriving on Broadway with its earthly delights more or less intact, this perfectly heavenly musical — with book, music and lyrics by Anaïs [...]

  • Burn This review

    Broadway Review: Adam Driver, Keri Russell in 'Burn This'

    The ache for an absent artist permeates Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This,” now receiving a finely-tuned Broadway revival that features incendiary performances by Adam Driver and Keri Russell, playing two lost souls in a powerful and passionate dance of denial. AIDS is never mentioned in this 1987 play, yet the epidemic and the profound grief that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content