On Mondays, Broadway's dark night, let's talk theater! I have reason to talk tonight, shout even. The highlight of my weekend was an unexpected one. I agreed to see Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike with friends knowing virtually nothing about it aside from the safe-guess that it was somehow riffing on Chekhov and that Sigourney Weaver was in it. Sigweavie was draw enough.
This semi-blind purchase happily delivered far more than just starpower.
The play takes place in a single weekend at the childhood home of the very famous Masha (Sigourney Weaver), an Oscar-less aging movie star who made her name on a violent genre franchise. Heh. That sounds so familiar! Is playwright Christopher Durang having a winking laugh at his close actress friend? more
Masha sadsack siblings, Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) and adopted sister Sonia (Kristine Nielsen, who was so funny a couple of seasons ago in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) have been living in the house their whole lives but Masha's visit totally upends their old-married style bickering and routines. She announces that they're all going to a fashionable high society costume party. She's going as Snow White and expects her siblings to flank her as Dopey & Grumpy much to their chagrin. Masha's also brought along her latest boytoy, the young dim Spike (Billy Magnussen), hence the play's title. He's a would be actor whose biggest achievement is almost winning a role on Entourage 2. Masha might be as unhappy and regret-filled as her siblings but she covers it with a comically oversized enthusiasm and self-aggrandizement rather than their self-deprecation. Into this clash of egos, cultures, personalities and agendas drop two more characters: Nina (Genevieve Angelson) a beautiful young actress who wants to meet Masha and Cassandra (Shalita Grant) the housemaid who has the gift of second sight and keeps warning everybody about everything... but mainly about each other.
Theater aficionados will love the Chekhov parody but even if you aren't well versed in prestigious Russian classics (I'll admit that half of those jokes sailed over me) this play's comic reach extends far beyond them. The Snow White business is just priceless with the tall and low-voiced Sigourney Weaver prancing around hysterically with high pitched affectation. She's sublimely silly throughout and throws herself into buffoonery with complete conviction. She reminded me, quite happily, that Lt. Ellen Ripley aside, her greatest gift has always been comedy.
There's plenty of accessible sibling rivalry laughs and showbiz humor, too. The latter jokes often come at the the expense of the ridiculous Masha and the exhibitionistic Spike who will jump on any excuse to take his clothes off though he generally doesn't wait for one. But the MVP of Act 1 might just be Kristine Nielsen whose Maggie Smith impression so upsets Masha. Suddenly there's California Suite all up in her Snow White!
Act 1 is so high energy and farcical that Act 2, the aftermath of the party, is naturally a bit less caffeinated. Durang's attempts to wring a bit of pathos out of all the laughter isn't quite as successful and definitely not as focused - Pierce brings the house down with an angry/funny monologue about preferring the past to the present but it didn't always feel like it was from the same play.
But why quibble when you're having this much fun? Tony nominations for all! Please and thanks.
What's the last thing you saw on stage? Do you like Sigourney better in comedies or dramas?