Sunday, May 26, 2024

Sigourney Weaver Meets Steve Carell in A “Vanya”-Palooza at Star Studded Night for Lincoln Center



Tuesday night Lincoln Center Theater put on the kind of star studded event that was a throwback to the good old days.

To raise money, LCT produced — in two days — a retro staging of Christopher Durang’s more hilarious than ever and Tony award winning “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” with most of the original cast including Sigourney Weaver, David Hyde Pierce, Kristine Nielsen, and Liesel Allen Yaeger. Plus they flew in Tony winner and TV legend Linda Lavin, who was joined by hot young actor David Hull. Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher did the directing with very little rehearsal.

The place for this was the Vivian Beaumont Theater, where the highly praised real “Uncle Vanya” is playing starring Steve Carell and William Jackson Harper.

In the audience at the Vivian Beaumont, on his night off, was of course, Carell, who’d never seen the Durang send up of the Chekhov play and was overwhelmed by it. He was equally overwhelmed when this reporter introduced him to Weaver at the glamorous dinner at David Geffen Hall following the show, creating a Vanyapalooza. Also spotted was famed comedian Robert Klein, legendary author Steven M.L. Aronson, other “Uncle Vanya” cast members including Tony winner Jane Houdyshell and Spencer Jones, and so on.

Bartlett Sher’s production of this hit, not seen since 2014, was sublime. Durang passed away in 2018, but this is his masterwork. It needs a film and a revival on Broadway. Weaver told me last night the comedy has never been seen in London and she’s willing to go do it (in between finishing chapters 3, 4, and 5 of “Avatar”).

Many in last night’s audience had not seen the original 2013 production which won Best Play that year at the Tonys (plus nomination for the whole cast). “Vanya and Sonia” turns out to have been prescient in 2013. Everything Durang was mocking and at the same time fearing about the internet, the climate, and so on have only gotten worse in the last 11 years. You could feel the audience leaning forward in their seats laughing at the constant jokes but also buzzing because Durang’s work seems more contemporary than ever.

(The basic plot: Masha, an aging movie star with five husbands on her resume, returns from Hollywood to the family home in Bucks County where her brother and adopted sister live. She bring with her a boytoy actor who almost got cast in “Entourage 2.” She wants to sell the house, the only place the brother and sister have ever lived.)

When “Vanya and Sonia” was on Broadway, Shalita Grant and Billy Magnussen were in the cast. They received Tony nominations but weren’t available for this wild night. David Hull, who’d played the part of boytoy Spike in Los Angeles, stepped in. But what about replacing Grant?

In from Los Angeles came Tony and Golden Globe winner Lavin, who had little notice, and didn’t know the show. But she took the stage like a champ, reading from her script but not really using it as she made Cassandra, the clairvoyant housekeeper, into an integral part of the story.

Listen, Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce are formidable actors, and they made it seem like they’d been doing this for weeks, not days. I have a soft spot, though, for Kristine Nielsen, who plays their adopted sister. She’s one woman comic tour de force and a legend on Broadway. In July she goes back for a third season in “The Gilded Age” on HBO, where she plays a Mrs. Patmore-like cook in the Russell (Vanderbilt) mansion. I am pleading with Julian Fellowes and that show’s writers to give her a real storyline this season. They are wasting a gem!

Errata: I don’t know who was more nervous in our impromptu meeting, Sigourney or Steve. They hit it off immediately. Sigourney told me she and Linda Lavin also became fast friends, are now texting each other, and plan to meet up in LA. Lavin stopped David Hyde Pierce and thanked him deeply for all his help in this hasty and incredibly successful endeavor.

In the play, Weaver’s Masha famously wears a Snow White costume for much of the two acts as her egotistic movie star character is going to a party down the street. So out came Weaver in the costume. But it wasn’t the original one. “That one fell off the truck” — wink, wink– costume designer Emily Rebholz told me. So she ordered one from Amazon, then got to work customizing it overnight for Masha. That’s how theater people react to a crisis!

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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