My love of the arts came to a pinnacle when I saw “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” I thought the Bette Midler play was a life-changing theatrical experience. But “Vanya” is one of the greatest, funniest and smartest plays I’ve ever seen and it made me even kind of sad that I limit myself to musicals as I missed this show completely when it was Off-Broadway.
Thankfully, due to all of the Tony nominations and the attention it’s getting, I needed to see what the fuss is all about. How could I have not known such greatness would come from the clever mind of Christopher Durang? Always so droll and perhaps too smart for his own good, but with “Vanya” he is able to bring high-brow sophistication to the masses.
Durang’s usage of Anton Chekhov characters, and even mixing in some of Chekhov’s plots, all set in a modern day Pennsylvanian town, is as brilliant as Chekhov himself.
The contemporary setting, witty repartee and physical comedy make this an instant modern day classic.
David Hyde Pierce and Kristine Nielsen plays siblings Vanya and Sonia who have watched their lives pass them by as they cared for their elderly parents who have now passed and have left the siblings now seem like an old married couple with constant bickering and barbs. Their mundane lives are brought to life once a week with the visit from their housekeeper Cassandra, played by a hilarious Tony nominated Shalita Grant. Cassandra does a better job cleaning house by trying to keep the siblings aligned then she does by sweeping floors. She also gets spontaneous premonitions that turn the story and the house upside down while leaving the audience in stitches.
Lead Actress Tony contender Nielsen is brilliant in her bipolar performance with a particularly humorous and memorable scene in which she recreates Maggie Smith’s role in “California Suite” for a costume party she’s attending.
Pierce’s work is more subtle and less over the top, mostly as a reactionary to all of the lunacy around him. He does have a soliloquy in the second act that shows why he’s a Tony nominee and a great actor. This moment is pure theatre magic in which actor and prose have never been more perfectly aligned. It will go down in the books as one of the greatest monologues in theatre history.
Supporting Tony nominee Billy Magnussen also shows his stuff, in more ways than one. He’s a rare find of an actor who is so hot that you would never expect a great performance out of him. And while the other characters all drool over his Spike’s half-naked sexiness, he relishes in the fact that he’s giving a respectable and brilliant performance and mostly in his underwear.
The success also needs to pay respect to top lining Sigourney Weaver, who is hilarious as the self-indulgent movie star sister Masha. Weaver is not a stranger to live theatre, but people have forgotten some of her earlier work thanks to her success on the big screen.
Here she is able to make fun of herself, Hollywood and everything superficial, while carving out a deep character. She seems to have a ball in the role and we all enjoy the ride.
Sitting through “Vanya” I was reminded why I love the theatre and why I should open my eyes a bit to see shows that are not musicals. Sure I’d see a musical version of this show, but why tamper with perfection because this show is flawless as is.
It’s on a limited run and has been extended through July 28. For more information, go to http://vanyasoniamashaspike.com.