Friday, April 12, 2024

Sigourney Weaver “Vanya” Comedy Looking at Broadway Run


Broadway is a little short on original plays this season, so I am happy to pass on the news that Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” may be moving there for Tony season. The hilarious, witty send up of Chekhov–directed by Nicholas Martin– is playing its last two weeks of what has been a great run at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater. I saw it last night– and yes, I paid $85 like everyone else–and couldn’t have been more pleased. “VSMS” is laugh out loud funny. You don’t need to know much about Chekhov because Durang explains it for you as he goes along. But if you know a little bit about “Three Sisters,” “Uncle Vanya,” or “The Cherry Orchard” you’ll enjoy the inside jokes.

I used Sigourney Weaver’s name in the headline for this item because she’s the star, and she’s also a stitch. Fans of Weaver from “Alien” and serious fare would be surprised to know this is how she started out, with Durang, doing zany comedy. She plays Masha (name checked from “Three Sisters”) who is now a vain, self absorbed shallow movie star supporting two siblings (Sonia and Vanya, played to the hilt by Kristine Nielsen and David Hyde Pierce) living in their beautiful family home in upstate New York. Masha brings with her Spike, her clueless 25 year old boytoy (Billy Magnussen, with sharp comic timing and great abs).  There’s also a voodoo loving housekeeper named Cassandra (Shalita Grant) and a Chekhovian ingenue — Nina, of course–  who threatens Masha on many levels (Genevieve Angelson).

For once, hilarity does ensue. “VSMS” is two and a half hours long but it’s the first time in eons when I checked my watched because I didn’t want a show to end. Durang is very busy dropping literary references, which is fun. But the rest of the writing is so deft, and the players are so perfect, you don’t want them to stop. Of course, Weaver and Hyde Pierce play it like French farce meets Noel Coward, and they’ve got it down. Durang has given them each terrific showcase speeches and moments that provoke laughs and tears.

But the “supporting” cast has to be watched very carefully. Nielsen, in particular, almost steals the show. (Well, they each try and steal it at least once.) Sonia has a madcap side–she can do a killer imitation of Maggie Smith. When she rolls her eyes, Nielsen reminds you of Swoosie Kurtz in “House of Blue Leaves.” She’s wonderful. Magnussen is a proficient himbo, not as dumb as he looks. (I liked him too in Whit Stillman’s movie gem, “Damsels in Distress.”) Grant brings essential extra-comic relief as Cassandra, the Greek mythology spouting maid who foretells much gloom and doom. Angelson is exactly right as the fresh bloom to annoy Masha.

Apparently they’ve been having a lot of fun over at the Mitzi Newhouse. Two nights ago, Durang celebrated his birthday and the audience sang “Freres Jacques” to him in the semi-round. Last night, I ran into actress Lily Rabe with her friend Jason Butler Harner (shooting “Non Stop” now with Liam Neeson), and “Lord of the Rings” co-mastermind producer Michael Lynne. The audience never stops laughing, in a good way. Let’s hope this gang gets to Broadway ASAP. They’re needed.

PS Weaver only has a limited amount of time. She starts the “Avatar” sequels in late summer.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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