×
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

  • Hugh Jackman'To Kill a Mockingbird' Broadway

    'To Kill a Mockingbird's' Starry Opening: Oprah, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and More

    The Shubert Theatre in New York City last was filled on Thursday night with Oscar winners, media titans, and, of course, Broadway legends who came out for the opening of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The starry guest list included Oprah Winfrey, Barry Diller, “Les Misérables” co-stars Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Gayle King, [...]

  • Pat Gelbart Obit Dead

    Actress Pat Gelbart, Wife of 'MASH' Creator, Dies at 94

    Pat Gelbart, widow of late “MASH” creator Larry Gelbart, died surrounded by family at her home in Westwood, Calif. on Dec. 11. She was 94. Gelbart was born in Minneapolis, Minn. in 1928 as Marriam Patricia Murphy. When she met her husband, Gelbart was an actress, known for the 1947 musical “Good News,” in which [...]

  • To Kill a Mockingbird review

    Broadway Review: 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

    Against all odds, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Bartlett Sher have succeeded in crafting a stage-worthy adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic American novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The ever-likable Daniels, whose casting was genius, gives a strong and searching performance as Atticus Finch, the small-town Southern lawyer who epitomizes the ideal human qualities of goodness, [...]

  • Isabelle HuppertIsabelle Huppert Life Achievement Award,

    Isabelle Huppert, Chris Noth to Appear on Stage in 'The Mother'

    Isabelle Huppert will appear opposite Chris Noth in the Atlantic Theater Company’s production of “The Mother.” It marks the U.S. premiere of the show. “The Mother” was written by French playwright Florian Zeller and translated by Christopher Hampton. Huppert, an icon of European film, was Oscar-nominated for “Elle” and appears in the upcoming Focus Features [...]

  • Could Anyone Follow ‘Springsteen on Broadway’?

    Could Anyone Follow 'Springsteen on Broadway'? Here Are Five Things They'd Need (Guest Column)

    After 235-odd shows, with grosses in excess of $100 million, a Special Tony Award and a hotly anticipated Netflix special debuting Sunday, “Springsteen on Broadway” is an unprecedented Broadway blockbuster. As with any success in entertainment, the rush to replicate The Boss’ one-man show reportedly is under way, with a consortium led by Live Nation, CAA [...]

  • Clueless review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Clueless' the Musical

    How does a musical stage adaptation of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film comedy of oblivious privileged teens, “Clueless,” play in the era of female empowerment and millennial engagement? True, the principal skills of lead teen Cher Horowitz are the superficial ones of mall shopping and makeovers. But her sweet spirit and independence, plus some added P.C. relevance, [...]

  • Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary,

    Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary, 'Hugo Cabret' Musical

    Producers Tim Headington and Theresa Steele Page have unveiled Ley Line Entertainment with a Brian Wilson documentary and a “Hugo Cabret” musical in the works. Ley Line said it’s a content development, production, and financing company with projects spanning film, television, stage, and music. Headington financed and produced “The Young Victoria,” “Argo,” “Hugo,” and “World [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content