OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Playwright Christopher Durang has stated that often when he develops his characters in the opening scenes, he doesn’t know what they might do later in the play. Never mind – in his latest, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” the characters romp for a full two acts and never look back.
If you are the sort of play goer who must have lots of plot action, obstacles to be overcome, tough problems to solve, you can skip this Princeton McCarter Theatre production that runs through Oct. 7. But if you can accept fascinating characters, cleverly developed, sparkling dialogue that will make you laugh hard and out loud, no matter how weak the story, grab the phone, dial (609) 258-2728 and beg for a seat (the rumors are that the show is completely sold out for the entire run).
And if can get a seat, you’ll be welcomed by a half dozen for the most interesting characters in a long time, gathered at a lovely Bucks County home over a two-day period who, between them, will give you your best evening in years. A glance at the title will give you the clue that the playwright had Chekhov in mind as he wrote. But Anton never had this much fun or was so outrageous on his way to Moscow. And when David Hyde Pierce, as the determined bachelor Vanya, begins a long tribute to the past with references to ‘50s TV shows (“Kukla, Fran and Ollie” and “Ozzie and Harriet”) you realize that Chekhov may well have met his match.
You see, Vanya and his adopted sister, Sonia (Kristine Nielsen) live solemn lives in the large house, all paid for by sister Masha, who is a huge, but possibly fading Hollywood star (Sigourney Weaver) who shows up with a muscular boy-toy, Spike (Billy Magnussen) apparently willing to remove most of his clothes at the slightest pretense. Masha, it seems, has thoughts of selling the house (that’s the only conflict of the evening,) but seems more concerned with Spike looking at the attractive, young, blonde from next door (Genevieve Angelson.) For her part, Nina seems more impressed by Vanya as a budding if old playwright (“May I call you Uncle Vanya ?”)
And then there is Cassandra, the cleaning lady (Shalita Grant) who steals entire scenes merely by dropping warnings: “Beware the ides of March” or perhaps “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” The problem is she is often absolutely right.
Every character gets a rare opportunity to show off with a passionate, powerhouse monologue thanks to clever playwriting and David Korins’ set would ne worth $3,000 a month in the New Hope/Solebury area. Director Nicholas Martin’s touch shows everywhere. The production is co-produced with Lincoln Center in New York and goes there next.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike plays at McCarter Theatre, 90 University Place, Princeton through Oct. 7.