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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike
Lincoln Center Theater  Spring 2021

Witty zingers mixed with dark comedy, open sentimentality and righteous indignation, pop culture and high culture references, and the suggestion that there's something deeper going on than there actually is – anyone who knew playwright Christopher Durang only from his first hit, 1979's Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All To You, would recognise his hand in this 2012 comedy-drama.

Produced by the Lincoln Center Theater before moving to Broadway to win the following year's Best Play Tony, it is now available online.

The first three named characters are middle-aged siblings whose parents were Chekhov buffs, and their lives and conversations are sprinkled with Chekhov references. Vanya and Sonia live in the family home (complete with a grove, if not quite an orchard of cherry trees), supported by Masha, a movie star facing the prospect of relegation to mother roles.

Masha visits with her latest toyboy, the particularly dim-but-hunky Spike, and meets the starstruck wannabe actress Nina and – just to mix metaphors – the cleaning lady Cassandra, prone to gnomic warnings of impending doom.  Masha wants to sell, but the others have no place – least of all Moscow –to go to.

Masha drags everyone off to a local costume party where, to her chagrin, the ordinarily lumpen Sonia is a big hit with her Maggie Smith impersonation.

Vanya has written a play in the style of – and almost as bad as – Konstatine's in The Sea Gull, which, of course, Nina gets to act in, before being interrupted by an extended screed by Vanya against just about everything that has happened in his life or in the world at large since he was a child in the 1950s.

Nobody goes to Moscow, but somehow things end more-or-less happily.

Along with spotting all the literary allusions and enjoying the frequent understated ironic comments, usually from David Hyde Pierce's Vanya, the pleasure for the audience will come in the opportunities for a talented cast to show off.

Sigourney Weaver makes Masha a self-paodying mix of Chekhov's Arkadina and any modern rock diva in her broad theatricality, constantly posing for imaginary cameras, and an egocentricity so absolute and ingrained as to be almost forgivable.

David Hyde Pierce effortlessly steals scene after scene just by underplaying, only to grab the spotlight and not let it go for Vanya's simultaneously sad and comic celebration of the 1950s.

It's a tour-de-force of both writing and performance, even if one wonders how many in a 21st-century audience will respond as the playwright hopes to mentions of Howdy Doody, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and Senor Wences.

And Kristine Nielsen gets the single most moving moment in the play as Sonia discovers just how much of a hit she was at that party. Genevieve Angelson (Nina), Shalita Grant (Cassandra) and Billy Magnussen (Spike) provide solid support by playing characters written somewhat as stereotypes will full commitment.

What is it all about? Something about family, something about roots, something about accepting change, something about having once taken an undergraduate course in Russian drama – and probably not as much about any of those things as it pretends. But it's a lot of fun.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Vanya And Sonia And Masha Ans Spike - Lincoln Center Theater 2021