Magazine article Variety

A Sly Chek-Mate

Magazine article Variety

A Sly Chek-Mate

Article excerpt

A sly Chek-mate

LEGIT: VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE iOFF BROADWAY)

Playwright Christopher Durang; Cast: David Hyde Pierce, Kristine Nielsen, Shallta Grant Lincoln Center/ Newhouse; 99 seats; $85 top

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" is brainy and witty and clever and cute. Christopher Durang's surreal comedy of manners answers that perennial prayer for shows with higher aspirations than to pass themselves off as sitcoms. In a great leap of imagination, Durang lifts characters and storylines from four Chekhov plays (plus a tragedy by Aeschylus) and transplants them from provincial Russia to present-day Bucks County. In this hilarious mashup, classic themes of existential loss and longing are given a modern spin and endlessly inventive comic twists for an inspired cast led by Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce.

David Korins' romantic set (bathed in Justin To wnsend's limpid lighting) of an old stone house in bucolic Bucks County is an authentic American version of those Russian country estates that represent heaven-on-earth to characters in Chekhov's plays.

Vanya, who is played by that king of deadpan, Pierce, and his half-sister Sonia (Kristine Nielsen, another regal clown) are also familiar figures. Like their namesakes in "Uncle Vanya," they're the poor, forgotten drudges who have wasted their lives working to keep up the family estate while their glamorous sibling, Masha (frequent Durang collaborator Weaver, as funny as you've ever seen her), swans around the world becoming rich and famous and completely forgetful of them.

Vanya and Sonia are the very models of midlife discontent, disappointment and despair. As perfectly matched as a salt-andpepper set, Pierce and Nielsen play the pathos of this wretched pair without acknowledging the howling humor of their lugubrious characters.

Borrowing freely from other plays, Sonia sighs over the beautiful blue heron that comes to feed at the pond, and compares herself to a wild turkey. …

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