at the theatre: vanya & sonia & masha & spike

vanya & sonya & masha & spike

You never know with playwright Christopher Durang. His plays often straddle a murky line between incisive satire and puerile humor. But like the best novels of Kurt Vonnegut, when he’s at the top of him game his seemingly simple, zany stories betray the existential angst and simmering fear brewing beneath the calm, clean surfaces of modern life.  So I am overjoyed to report through tears of laughter that his latest confection, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, now on Broadway in a pitch-perfect production at the John Golden Theater, is a return to frolicsome – and forbidding – form. A mash-up of characters and plot threads from Anton Chekov’s four major works – Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, The Seagull, The Cherry Orchard – the play revolves around Vanya and Sonia (David Hyde Pierce and a luminous Kristine Nielsen), a brother and sister left to tend the family estate – and their dying parents – in Bucks County, PA, while their glamorous sister Masha (Sigourney Weaver) finds fame and fortune in Hollywood. A surprise visit from Masha, with her 20-something boy toy Spike in tow (the ridiculously fit and spectacularly undressed Billy Magnussen) throws the normally placid household into chaos – not least of all due to the prophecies belched out by the cleaning woman, appropriately called Cassandra (a very funny Shalita Grant), and the arrival of a lithesome young neighbor named Nina, who curiously enough wants to be an actress. In less-skilled hands this could have easily devolved into an extended SNL skit but Durang and director Nicholas Martin make sure that throughout their frothy mix of lust, rivalry, regret and ridiculousness there is a palpable awareness of the human condition, making Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike a romp the likes of which I think even Mr. Chekov would laughingly approve.

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