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Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Presents "Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike"
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Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Presents "Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike"

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Lincoln Center Theater
At the Mitzi E. Newhouse
Under the Direction of Andre Bishop and Bernard Gersten
in association with McCarter Theatre Center
Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike
(Show Web Page)
By Christopher Durang

Genevieve Angelson, Shalita Grant, Billy Magnussen,
Kristine Nielsen, David Hyde Pierce, Sigourney Weaver

Directed by Nicholas Martin
Sets: David Korins
Costumes: Emily Rebholz
Lighting: Justin Townsend
Original Music and Sound: Mark Bennett
Stage Manager: Jane Grey
Casting: Daniel Swee
Exec. Director of Development: Hattie K. Jutagir
Director of Marketing: Linda Mason Ross
General Press Agent: Philip Rinaldi
General Manager: Adam Siegel
Production Manager: Jeff Hamlin

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 19, 2012

The title of Christopher Durang’s new play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, named for three renowned Chekhovian characters, plus additional characters named Nina and Cassandra, led me to anticipate sophisticated, literary humor. Instead I found the play an exercise in forced, shallow hilarity. The setting is an upscale country cottage in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where siblings Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) and Sonia (Kristine Nielsen) stay put and mourn their existence in mellow meandering soliloquies. The spark in their space (and in this production) is the housekeeper, Cassandra (Shalita Grant), who steals the show with genuine comedic charisma, as she practices voodoo and offers advice, along with lunch. The audience, as a barometer, was roaring at Cassandra’s madcap antics. Ms. Grant is surely an artist to watch, while, in Act I, both Ms. Nielsen and Mr. Hyde Pierce proved lackluster and lifeless, in their wicker and braided rug-furnished abode.

In contrast to Vanya and Sonia’s ennui, the third sibling, Masha (Sigourney Weaver), an actress who loves the mirror, arrived in windy, shrill pomposity, a cougar with her young, blond muscle man, Spike (Billy Magnussen). This play would have struck a much more tolerable chord if Ms. Weaver had exuded a natural effusiveness, rather than the course cacophony that ensued. As the plot unfolded, Nina (Genevieve Angelson), a country neighbor, ingénue and very, very young, caught Spike’s eye, and one can imagine where that went. Masha’s shrillness reached operatic tones, while her muscle man showed off some athletic moves. Act II brings the ensemble to a costume party, with Masha dressed as Snow White, Vanya dressed as Dopey the dwarf, and Sonia dressed as Maggie Smith in an elegant blue gown. Tables are turned, and Sonia meets a man, who loved her British affectation. Meanwhile, throughout the dreary dialogue, Ms. Grant continues to steal the show, although Ms. Nielsen, in her new mellowed optimism, became more interesting.

Nicholas Martin directed with mixed results, as Ms. Grant and Mr. Magnussen maximized the energy of their roles, while the remaining cast often infused their roles with twitchy or tiresome malaise. To appreciate Chekhov, look for Uncle Vanya or The Cherry Orchard, or click here to read about a play, based on Chekhov and his sister, Maria. To appreciate Durang, look for Beyond Therapy or Adrift in Macao, two Durang plays that I had thoroughly enjoyed. David Korins’ appealing cottage deserves a second play, while the highlight of Emily Rebholz’ costumes was Sonia’s glittery blue dress. Lighting and sound were warm and clear. The Mitzi Newhouse remains an intriguing, inviting theatrical space.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at