Shalita Grant and David Hyde Pierce in the world premiere of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang at McCarter Theatre Center. Directed by Nicholas Martin, the production, which is produced in association with Lincoln Center Theater, runs through Oct. 14. Credits: T. Charles Erickson
Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce in the world premiere of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang at McCarter Theatre Center. Directed by Nicholas Martin, the production, which is produced in association with Lincoln Center Theater, runs through Oct. 14. Credits: T. Charles Erickson
Durang’s ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ Makes for Zany Opener to McCarter Theatre in Princeton
Tuesday, September 18, 2012 • 5:00am
PRINCETON, NJ – Christopher Durang’s latest play, in a premiere at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, is often hilarious, as he merges allusions to Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” with a restless family in New Hope, Pennsylvania.
It seems the deceased parents were professors and named their children after characters from the Russian play. Spike, the outsider, is Masha’s young, sexy boyfriend, played by Billy Magnusson. We also have the winsome Genevieve Angelson as Nina, who lives next door. Cassandra, the cleaning woman who spouts Greek symbolism, is played by Shalita Grant.
It all works swimmingly, especially with an outstanding cast headed by Sigourney Weaver as Masha. Masha is a wildly successful actress who pays all the bills for the house in New Hope and generally keeps her relatives in food and shelter. Weaver is in top form as a completely self-centered movie star. When she’s invited to a costume
party at the house once owned by Algonquin wit Dorothy Parker, she decides to go as Snow White. She then decrees that her brother and sister will be dwarfs and Spike will be Prince Charming. Needless to say, some of those plans go awry.
Kristine Nielsen is Sonia, the 57-year-old adopted daughter who thinks her life is over. But she metamorphosis into a delightful impression of British actress Maggie Smith when decked out for the costume party. David Hyde Pierce is her brother Vanya, and also plays an underachiever. When Nina asks if she can call him “Uncle Vanya,” we have
one more take on Chekhov.
Of course, there are more allusions to “The Cherry Orchard,” with a few cherry trees in the backyard. Somewhat similar to that play, Masha has decided to sell the family homestead, upsetting Sonia and Vanya, who have spent their lives caring for their elderly parents.
The opening scene involving a cup of coffee is priceless. Hyde Pierce subtly underplays his role until Act II, when he goes off on a tangent about ‘the good old days’ when everyone watched the same television channels and licked their own stamps. Grant as Cassandra also has some riotous monologues as she appears to have visions of what’s
about to happen. The voodoo doll may be a bit much, but who cares?
The first act generally moves along more smoothly than Act II. It may be that the Chekhov comparison becomes repetitive and overwrought. Vanya’s attempt at writing a play about molecules doesn’t quite click, either. But on opening night, the audience was obviously having an uproarious time throughout.
The handsome set is designed by David Korins, with costumes by Emily Rebholz. Costumes, indeed, play a major role and the actors know just how to make the most of them. Especially Hyde Pierce as a dwarf.
Weaver and Durang have had a long-running rapport, ever since their graduate days at Yale University. She is definitely the pivotal character in this play and brings it off superbly.
Nicholas Martin directed this fast-moving comedy and the actors milk the lines for all they’re worth. Timing is everything, especially in comedy, and these pros know just how to make something even mildly amusing seem incredibly smart.
Produced in association with Lincoln Center Theatre, it will then move to New York City after its run in Princeton. Performances at the McCarter’s Berlind Theatre have already been extended until Oct. 14. For tickets, call 609-258-5050 or visit mccarter.org.