I was trying to think of one word to describe this play: sophomoric! That’s the word. It’s astonishing that it has lasted so long, having had other incarnations in and out of New York. But perhaps the others were better productions.
Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) and Sonia (Kristine Nielsen) are brother and adopted sister who seem to be living out their days in the family home that their parents have recently departed. They do little more than sit waiting for the local heron to pay a visit and repeat lines from Chekhov - Sonia is in mourning for her life (Get it?). These two have a lot of time on their hands and not much to fill it.
Until their sister Masha (Sigourney Weaver) the famous actress, arrives with her current lover Spike (Billy Magnussen). Masha has blown into town with plans. Everyone is to attend a costume party at a neighbor’s mansion, and the homestead that she supports must be sold, in that order. First things first, Masha must emote all over the stage about the sad and frustrating life she has lead in spite of her many, many successes that neither of her siblings would understand because they never had any. After that she must extol the virtues and body of her much younger lover. After that she will outline the costume theme for the evening – she is Snow White and her siblings will be two of the dwarfs with Spike coming in as Prince Charming.
These plans meet with unqualified resistance. One the one hand beautifully performed by Pierce who understands that one raised eyebrow will be enough to make us laugh. Nielsen on the other hand, slips into her same old shtick of hobbling about and doing her bobble head with the rolling eyes bit. This is a tiresome affectation that makes a lot of locals howl, but one above which I hope she raises some day. She is a talented actor but settles for giving us less than she is capable of.
There is also the unexpected addition of a neighbor – Nina – who is an aspiring actor and will do almost anything to go along for the ride.
Fast forward we arrive in the second act where Vanya’s play is read out loud – all about the end of the universe as we know it – and a disrespectful reaction by Spike sends Vanya into a tirade about what is missing in the present time that makes up for his long silence La Bête, but is so long that it loses steam as well as value. Weaver is disappointing as well, lacking stage presence and gravitas. She is more a cartoon than a woman, but perhaps that was on purpose as a reflection of the character she chose to portray in the costume ball.
Added to this unsatisfying mix is the delightful Salita Grant as a soothsaying housecleaner who is crisp and hilarious and completely out of place. Billy Magnussen (Spike) and Genevieve Angelson (Nina) also handle their parts with grace and skill. But it is not enough to make the pieces fit.
I understand that this is a sleight of hand bit of light entertainment. But it still needs something to hold it together. Perhaps if Nielsen did less and Weaver did more we might have something here. Even that is a stretch, however.
It is a luke warm evening at best.
"Intermittently delightful comedy."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"Churning Chekhov into modern-day chuckles is the essence of Christopher Durang’s slight and happy diversion."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"The show’s a ton of fun even if you can’t tell your 'Seagull' from your 'Uncle Vanya.'"
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Both breathtakingly funny and quietly poignant, this Chekhov-inspired work—for which knowledge of the Russian master’s plays is not a requirement—is pure joy from start to finish."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"Breezy wit and satirical bite."
David Cote for Time Out New York
"A surprisingly sweet and funny comedy."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"Brainy and witty and clever and cute."
Marilyn Stasion for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...