Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Forget Chekhov and Laugh Through Depression

I have been a fan of Christopher Durang since I directed a workshop of "Betty's Summer Vacation" about 14 years ago. He knows how to push comedy to a place where at times you laugh from a sheer "what just happened?" moment. I've heard friends talking about "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" since it ran at The McCarter Theatre Center in NJ and then off-Broadway at Lincoln Center. I'm so glad I finally caught it on Broadway before the Tonys occur and tickets are completely gone. 

This show is hysterical.

I will admit, I was fearful. I'm not a huge fan of Chekhov and I wondered if I would get all the inside jokes in this new play. Set in a weekend home (beautifully designed by David Korins) in Bucks County, PA Vanya lives with his sister Sonia when their sister Masha shows up with a young boyfriend Spike and a crazy weekend occurs.

So I really didn't have to love Chekhov in order to LOVE this show. And I did. I could not stop laughing from the moment it started. The actors volley back and forth like a perfect game of tennis. Tony nominated Kristine Nielsen as Sonia KNOWS Durang and absolutely knows how to deliver. I was mesmerized by her pacing and delivery. Not only her comic chops, but a few moments where truth and realness shine through as well. When I see that occur in the middle of a comedy, I consider it a gift from a talented performer. Working opposite David Hyde Pierce (also nominated for a Tony) as her brother Vanya - the two are comic genius. He has such an amazing background in stage and television and knows how to make a moment fresh. Even when doing broad comedy, the two of them are so in sync that we are witnessing a beautifully choreographed piece. 

I have always been a huge fan of Sigourney Weaver. (Even met her when working at my old video store in the late 80s on the upper west side in NYC.) She has recaptured the fun of her character in "Working Girl" and layered that with an even more over the top performance that she must maintain as her energy starts at 120 and just keeps going higher and higher. I find her role to be the most difficult, because in a way - she has to comment on her own career: playing a movie star. Billy Magnussen rounds out the title characters as Weaver's young love interest and he plays 'young, dumb stud' brilliantly!  Shalita Grant is a voodoo, future-seeing house keeper that exudes exuberance whenever she is on stage. And the night I went, Amelia McClain went on as Nina and fit in wonderfully with this well-oiled machine of a cast. She was perky and fun and everything that Masha hated.

Kudos to Nicholas Martin for directing this fun romp of a play in such a manner that an audience barely gets a chance to recover from a previous laugh. 


  1. I'm so jealous! Have loved Durang since seeing Titanic in NYC with Sigourney in late '70s. I directed Baby with Bathwater & performed Laughing Wild here in A'dam in late 80s. I hope this is still playing when I get back to NYC in the fall!

    1. Baby with the Bathwater is another GREAT Durang! I'm sure this will still be running in the fall when you come back. By all means - grab your tickets for it! ;-)