BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Christopher Durang blithely brews up a batch of Chekhovian elements and serves a fizzy modern-day diversion that he dubs “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”
Previously staged in Princeton by McCarter Theater Center (which commissioned the play), “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” opened on Monday at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater with an expert cast headed by Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce.
Set in a lovely old Bucks County home, the comedy centers on three siblings in their 50s. The self-effacing Vanya (Pierce) and mildly eccentric Sonia (Kristine Nielsen) have done little with their lonely lives, while Masha (Weaver) became a rich and famous star in a string of trashy movies. Arriving for a brief visit with her considerably younger stud-muffin beau Spike (Billy Magnussen), Masha announces her intention to sell their house, which sends the others into a spin.
Other than that story echo of “Uncle Vanya,” and the demure presence of Nina (Genevieve Angelson), a young, stage-struck neighbor who suggests a similar ingenue from “The Seagull,” Durang’s uneventful but frequently droll comedy contains mostly passing references to Chekhov’s works. If this meandering two-act piece is overlong, the characters and their humorous chitchat are so agreeable – and acted so well -- that one enjoys the time spent with them.
Among the genial play’s highlights, a seriocomic tirade by an incensed Vanya over the disconnected nature of contemporary culture and a phone call that quirky Sonia fields from a man she met at a party are respectively interpreted by Pierce and Nielsen to their poignant optimum. Sweetly playing an aspiring actor (and a sexy doofus), Magnussen also gets to perform quite a funny bit when Spike reenacts his unsuccessful audition for “Entourage 2.”
Since the playwright and Weaver have been chums since their college days, it is curious that Durang did not dream up a similar show-stopper monologue for her self-absorbed Masha. Instead, Weaver grandly and generally fumes as a fading beauty jealous of her starry prerogatives. Further humor is supplied by Shalita Grant as the family’s wacky doom-envisioning cleaning lady.