'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike' review: Better on Broadway

Sigourney Weaver with Billy Magnussen in Christopher Durang's Sigourney Weaver with Billy Magnussen in Christopher Durang's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike." Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

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REVIEW

Christopher Durang, of all unrepentant scamps, was inducted into the very upright Theater Hall of Fame in January. And now, with a cast including Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce, he has one of the funniest comedies that Broadway has seen in seasons. This is all delightful.

It matters, but not enough to hurt, that "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" is not dangerous enough to count as one of my favorites of his blithely demented satires. And, true, Broadway hasn't exactly been luxuriating in a golden age of comic delirium these days.

But the new play, which seemed too tidy and almost mellow in its Off-Broadway run at Lincoln Center Theater last fall, feels bigger and broader and more -- dare we say it -- commercial within Broadway expectations.

This is Durang's deadpan mashup of Anton Chekhov's themes and his own, directed with exquisite glee by Nicholas Martin, set in the yard of a gentrified stone farmhouse in Bucks County, Pa. Pierce (irresistibly long-suffering), Weaver (young Durang's formative muse) and Kristin Nielsen (his current one) play aging siblings whose parents, amateur thespians, named them after Chekhov characters.

Masha (Weaver, majestically foolish) is the glamorous visiting actress who escaped without having to care for their dying parents. Dreary Sonia (Nielsen, a gelatin mold of shimmering passive aggression) moans, "I am a wild turkey," if not a seagull.

Masha brings home her hunky boy-toy -- played with a spectacular sense of raunch-puppy awareness by Billy Magnussen. The ethereal young Nina (Genevieve Angelson) brings artistic idealism from next door and, just to mix up the references, the housekeeper named Cassandra (the irrepressible Shalita Grant) reels with premonitions and a voodoo doll.

Masha is going to a costume party as Snow White (mercilessly perfect costumes by Emily Rebholz), which gives us the rare chance to see Weaver unhinge her fine sense of the ridiculous as her narcissistic beauty collapses into acting its age. Nielsen has a lovely monologue as the dull sister blossoms, and Pierce delivers a stirring, climactic speech about a world "with no shared memories."

Alongside the sentiment is Durang's deeply touching faith in the ability of a cartoon style to sustain serious -- no cosmic -- purpose without sacrificing trust in the transcendent pleasures of the wicked and silly. Broadway can handle that.


WHAT "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike"

WHERE Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.

INFO $60-$130; 212-239-6200; telecharge.com

BOTTOM LINE Better on Broadway

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