Saturday, May 23, 2015


Brush up your Chekhov. Christopher Durang's newest comedy, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,premiering at McCarter Theater Center is on its way to Lincoln Center in New York. It stars Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce in roles perfect for them, along with a group of less-famous but just-as-fine actors under Nicholas Martin's light-as-a-feather direction, says Toby Zinman.



By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

Brush up your Chekhov -- Christopher Durang’s newest comedy, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, is premiering at McCarter Theater Center in Princeton and on its way to New York's Lincoln Center. It stars Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce in roles perfect for them, along with a group of less-famous-but-just-as-fine actors under Nicholas Martin’s light-as-a-feather direction.

Durang has written some hilarious parodies (my favorite is Desire Desire Desire, a sendup of Streetcar) but this is more a Chekhov mashup than a parody. Three siblings (almost three sisters since the one brother is gay) were named by their professor parents for Chekhov characters; the plot borrows not only from Three Sisters but also from The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya and The Seagull (although the bird of choice here is a wild turkey.)

Like Chekhov's plays, Durang’s is about real estate (selling the house) and melancholy (wasted opportunities) and pining for the past (it was nicer then).  In one hilarious cartoon scene, Masha (Sigourney Weaver is a very courageous good sport) and Sonia (Kristine Nielsen, whose Maggie Smith imitation is a hoot) howl their Chekhovian laments -- “My life is over” and “I have never lived” -- making their mouths into comical Os.

Masha, a sultry aging film star who has made lots of money from blockbusters (Alien, anyone?) arrives at the family’s Bucks County house with her boytoy Spike (Billy Magnussen is spectacularly sexy and vulgar) in tow. Her brother, Vanya (Pierce, master of monologues and deadpan comic timing), has written a new version of Konstantin’s play in The Seagull that stars a lovely young neighbor named, of course, Nina (Genevieve Angelson). The proceedings are overseen by a  cleaning lady named Cassandra (Shalita Grant in an irresistible performance) who not only foretells calamities but prevents them.

Durang has written an audience-pleasing monologue for each character, although Pierce’s terrific rant against the crass present, triggered by Spike’s texting during his play reading, got a huge ovation — partly for the performance, and partly, I suspect, because theater audiences are in sympathy with his sentiments.

There's a slew of delectable lines scattered throughout the script: “SONIA: I dreamt I was 52 and I wasn’t married. VANYA: Were you dreaming in documentary form?” Or this: “If everyone took anti-depressants, Chekhov would have nothing to write about.”  And neither, I imagine, would Durang, who manages to fling commentary on global warming, theater vs. film, national consciousness, and a bunch of other contemporary issues into this entertaining show.

McCarter Theater Center, 91 University Place, Princeton, through Oct.14. The entire run is sold out; call 609-258-2787 for possible availability.

About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

Philly Stage
Latest Videos:
Also on
letter icon Newsletter