My funny bone seems to have become rusty, not finding very funny nor satisfying the new Christopher Durang dysfunctional family comedy VANYA and SONIA and MASHA and SPIKE which is playing in over the top grandeur at The Mitzi E. Newhouse Lincoln Center Theater on a “let’s move in immediately” set – a comfy Bucks County home designed by David Korins where the gay, droll and dead pan Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) lives in imperfect harmony with his bi-polar sister Sonia (Kristine Nielsen) who, as it turns out, is adopted – which accounts for how dissimilar they are. However, they are both extremely funny. The rest of the cast and writing elicits chuckles and/or boredom in this mash up of Chekhov meets Durang at a costume party.
Vanya and Sonia have taken care of their sick and now deceased parents for what seems to be forever and live gratis due to the fame and fortune of their sister Masha (an over-the-top Sigourney Weaver) who has become rich and famous as a stage and film star – mostly appearing in sexy-killer movies. Fame has gone to her head, and her voice and her arms.
But times are hard now and global warming is setting in and she has returned home after a too long absence to invite them to the aforementioned costume party (Ms. Weaver wearing a spot on Disney Snow White costume by Emily Rebholz and prancing around like a girl half her age which she believes she is) and to put the house and “cherry orchard” – all of nine trees up for sale.
Tagging along like a dumb puppy in heat is her strikingly handsome and well built boy toy, lap dog and much younger fellow actor Spike (Billy Magnussen) who spends a lot of time in his briefs showing off his assets and flirting shamelessly with Uncle Vanya.
Also in attendance is Cassandra (Shalita Grant) their cleaning lady who seems to have been reared on Greek tragedy and has the ability to foresee the future – and spreading her ominous omens as soon as they hit her head. She’s also a whiz with a voodoo doll.
While wading in the off stage pond, Spike meets a naïve, pretty, young woman who is visiting her family and invites her over much to the chagrin of Masha. The girl’s name is Nina (a sweet Genevieve Angelson). Are you catching on to the Chekhovian references??? She is in awe of meeting her idol which softens Masha for about three seconds.
Masha had intended that Vanya and Sonia (who Masha ignores in the extreme) to be Grumpy and Dopey. The end of Act I image of Pierce going off with his sister to the party is worth another laugh. She has outsmarted Masha and is done up in a gorgeous gown pretending to be Maggie Smith.
Act II is much more of the same but has two wonderful monologues – by Nielsen (a telephone conversation with a man she has met at the party – how did he get her number? she certainly didn’t give it to him as she doesn’t know who he is but takes the call anyway) and Pierce (about what he misses most about the past – specifically the 1950’s) which score a few more points on the laugh meter.
However, they do not make up for the lack of believable situations, the odd over the top behavior and missteps by actors and director (Nicholas Martin) alike. But remember it’s a Christopher Durang show and that’s what Durang delivers. Absurdist humor. He’s an acquired taste.
Produced in association with the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton.
www.LCT.org Photos: T. Charles Erickson
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