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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE
at Golden Theatre

SIBLING RIVALRY
By MATT WINDMAN

  (L to R) David Hyde Pierce, Sigourney Weaver, Kristine Nielsen and Billy Magnussen/ Ph: Carol Rosegg

At every performance of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which just closed on Broadway, the audience got to vote as to which of the supporting characters murdered Drood. They also ought to vote over at Vanya and Sonia and Masha and SpikeChristopher Durang’s terrific, Chekhov-inspired comedy, which just transferred to Broadway following a successful Off-Broadway run at Lincoln Center Theater – as to which actor is giving the most sublimely ridiculous performance.

It would be a very tough contest. The candidates include David Hyde Pierce, who goes into a breathless five-minute rant against social media; Kristine Nielson, who impersonates the evil queen in Snow White as performed by Maggie Smith; Shalita Grant, who delivers apocalyptic warnings in the style of Greek tragedy; Sigourney Weaver, who awkwardly simulates fellatio at one point; Billy Magnusen, who does a booty-shaking reverse striptease; and Genevieve Angelson, who performs the role of a molecule in a skit.

Set in a large country house in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Vanya (Pierce) and Sonia (Nielsen) are a brother and sister who spent their adult lives at home taking care of their parents, who recently passed away after prolonged illness, while their sibling Masha (Weaver) went on to become a major, big-bucks-earning film star.

On this particular day, Masha has unexpectedly returned home, bringing along a young, not-too-bright boy-toy Spike (Magnussen), with news that she plans to finally sell the family home, which leads Vanya and Sonia to realize that they have wasted their lives. A subplot involves Nina (Angelson), a naïve young girl who lives next door and wishes to become an actress.

It would appear that director Nicholas Martin has encouraged the cast to play their roles as broadly as possible, with the result that their performances at times come across as too aggressive and overplayed for such an intimate theater. That aside, this is a smart, relentlessly silly, somewhat heartwarming comedy performed by an expert cast.

There are two wonderful monologues in the show’s second act that are performed with perfection by Pierce and Nielsen. In one, Vanya reacts to Spike’s indifferent and confused reception to Vanya’s admittedly strange play. Pierce spends most of the show in a fairly restrained mood, but here he launches into a sudden fury that rivals Lucky’s speech in Waiting for Godot. For the most part, Pierce longs for the simplicity of corny but comforting 1950s television programming.

In the other, Sonia speaks on the phone with a guy she had met the night before at a party. After confessing that she does not in fact speak like Maggie Smith, she is taken aback by the realization that she is actually being asked out on a date. It is a beautiful, moving moment that Nielsen absolutely nails.

 


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