'Vanya and Sonia' review: Gentrified Chekhov

Sigourney Weaver, right, during a performance of "Vanya

Sigourney Weaver, right, during a performance of "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" (Credit: handout)

You know how Chekhov's beloved plays intend to make us feel jerked around -- from joy to melancholy, from absurdity to tragedy, all as part of the mixed emotions of the ordinary human horror show?

It should come as no surprise that Christopher Durang appreciates that too. For more than three decades, his satires have been whiplashing along the tonal continuum from loopy silliness to excoriating fury, from wicked irreverence to a transcendent place where cartoon style has been known to crash into a very dark cosmic apocalypse.

So it's a little disappointing, but not tragically so, that "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," Durang's blithely demented mash-up of Chekhovian themes in Bucks County, Pa., does not quite live up to its delirious promise.

The production and six comic virtuosos have been directed with exquisite glee by Nicholas Martin. The setting is a gentrified stone farmhouse (by David Korins) with rumors of a cherry orchard and a pond with a blue heron who brings luck to all but the frogs he eats.

David Hyde Pierce (perfectly long-suffering) as Vanya and two generations of marvelous Durang muses -- Sigourney Weaver and Kristine Nielsen -- 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 a hunky boy-toy, Spike (the spectacularly self-aware Billy Magnussen). The ethereal young Nina (Genevieve Angelson) brings idealism from next door and, just to mix up the theatrical references, the housekeeper (Shalita Grant), named Cassandra, has premonitions.

Recriminations culminate with a neighbor's costume ball, to which Masha goes as Snow White and dresses up the others as dwarfs. (Costumes, by Emily Rebholz, are shrewdly observed.)

It's a thrill to watch Weaver -- Durang's longtime partner in dark-doodle cartoon crime -- morph, moment by moment, as her hilariously narcissistic beauty collapses into acting its age.

Many may value this play for its structural tidiness, seldom a Durang strength. This is a well-made, meticulously mounted, original and nutty amusement with a mellowness even to its climactic outbursts.

Me, I miss the danger.

 

WHAT "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike"

WHERE Mitzi Newhouse, Lincoln Center Theater

INFO $85; 212-239-6200; lct.org

BOTTOM LINE Amusing, but not dangerous Durang/Chekhov mash-up

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