The play opens with Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) and Sonia (Kristine Nielsen) drinking coffee and going through the motions in their childhood home. Sonia bemoans the nothingness that has come to define her life, while Vanya says very little, seemingly content to keep on with his routine. The Chekov references start immediately, with the siblings discussing their professor parents’ love for the great Russian playwright (Vanya and Sonia are named after characters from Uncle Vanya, and Masha’s namesake is one of the leads in Three Sisters) and continue throughout the show with additional nods to The Cherry Orchard and The Seagull.
But back to the story: Vanya and Sonia are carrying out their bleak lives when their Hollywood actress sister Masha (Sigourney Weaver) drops by. Masha’s visit is full of surprises starting with her twenty-something boy toy Spike (Billy Magnussen) and plans for the family home.
Over the course of the play, the siblings throw funny, referential digs at each other and their surroundings as they reminisce and clash. Sonia hopes to step out of Masha’s unwavering eclipse of a shadow, Vanya tries to make sense of an increasingly unfamiliar world, and Masha competes relentlessly with Nina (Genevieve Angelson), a star struck aspiring actress, and her siblings for attention.
L-R: Billy Magnussen, Kristine Nielsen, Sigourney Weaver, Genevieve Angelson, and David Hyde Pierce in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”. Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg.
While the play is filled with inside jokes that the theatre community will eat up, Spike and the mildly clairvoyant housekeeper Cassandra (Shalita Grant) bring lots of humor for the unfamiliar. Both Magnussen and Grant are great at physical comedy, and when they appear on the stage, you know you’re in for some serious laughs. The same goes for one of Nielsen’s scenes – one of the highlights of the play – where she unveils an unexpected side of the usually depressed Sonia.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike features Greek-mythology-and-subprime-mortgage-crisis-laden prophecies, an audition for Entourage 2, a costume party at Dorothy Parker’s house, and an “experimental” play about global warming. To make sure you catch as many jokes as possible, brush up on your Chekov, Criterion Collection films from Sweden, and Dame Maggie Smith (Harry Potter or Downton Abbey will do).
This is a must-see show. Durang has written fantastic dialogue and characters, and the engaging cast has hilariously brought his play to life. The actors work seamlessly together, and director Nicholas Martin’s pacing of the show is perfect, especially with the comedy. But the play isn’t just about the laughs; there are genuinely touching, even heartbreaking moments in the show, and these successful tonal shifts further prove the incredible capabilities of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’s creative team.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is written by Christopher Durang and directed by Nicholas Martin. It is currently playing at the Golden Theatre at 252 West 45th Street. For more information about the show, visit www.vanyasoniamashaspike.com.