A Weekend in New York

by Lynn on November 18, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Weekend in New York.

I’m just finishing up a weekend in New York where I saw four shows, (Dead Accounts, Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike, Golden Boy and The Anarchists) of which three were in previews, and only Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike had opened.

I’m not one of those breathless bottom-feeder-morons who discourse on previews—the worst are those musical theatre trolls who blog at the intermission of the first preview of musicals thinking they are showing some kind of theatre acumen, while in fact they are only showing they are idiots. So I won’t say a word about the three in preview except the stories and who’s in them.

The Anarchists by David Mamet. Starring Patti LuPone and Debra Winger. Directed by David Mamet. A woman in prison for being a part of the Weathermen terrorist group of the 60s, tries to convince her jailer that she should be paroled.

Dead Accounts by Theresa Rebeck. Starring Norbert Leo Butz and Katie Holmes. Directed by Jack O’Brien. A wayward son comes home to Cincinnati from New York. His parents and siblings wonder why. He’s reluctant to say. All he wants to do is eat ice-cream. At the Music Box Theatre.

Golden Boy by Clifford Odets. Starring Seth Numrich, Tony Shalhoub and a cast of more than 20, directed by Bartlett Sher.. About a man named Joe Bonaparte who must decide if he wants to be a classical violinists or a world-class boxer. At the Belasco Theatre.

Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang, directed by Nicholas Martin, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre of Lincoln Center Theater, is Durang’s tip of the hat to Chekhov. It opened earlier this week.

A brother and sister, Vanya and Sonya live in a lovely farmhouse in Buck’s County. Their sister Masha, an actress who has made her money doing schlock movies, owns the house. The parents were university professors who had a weird sense of humour and named the kids after Chekhov characters. When their parents were sick, Vanya and Sonya took care of them while Masha roamed the world doing her movies.

Now she’s come home with her latest toy boy, Spike, a smiling hunk of chiseled muscle, to tell them she’s selling the house. It is full of Durang’s loopy, witty sense of humour. The echoes of Chekhov reverberate throughout the play. If you know your Chekhov so much the better—Sonya saying repeatedly “I am a wild turkey, I am a wild turkey,” is Durang at his most perverse. If you aren’t that familiar with Chekhov, no matter. The play is hilarious on it’s own..

The cast is stellar. David Hyde Pierce plays Vanya with a droopy-eyed fastidiousness. He’s touching, thoughtful, and so understated he’s a riot. As his sister Sonya, Kristine Nielsen is an insecure woman lamenting her sad lot in life but with a certain jollity. Her doing an impersonation of Maggie Smith in California Suite is one of her many surprises. As Masha, Sigourney Weaver gives her whole performance as if she is a vapid movie star, with little connection to reality, which is true and real for this pretentious character.

As Spike, the chiseled toy-boy, Billy Magnussen is a mass of creativity, inventive bits of comedy, seemingly over the top business, which is not over the top, and is a total delight.

Durang also has a waif-like character named Nina, who, yes, wants to be an actress—Genevieve Angelson is divine. And a maid named Cassandra who, yes, can read the future and no one pays any attention to her, but recalls the ancient Greeks, foresees hurricanes, the arrival of annoying guests, and is adept at voodoo. Shalita Grant is a whirlwind. This cast is a dream.

While Durang has filled his play with his typical kind of humour, he has given each character a kind of aria that let’s them rip about their world. Vanya has a speech in Act II that laments the lack of manners in the modern world, as people tweet and text when they are bored and should be watching a play—this is focused at Spike. He goes on to lament the loss of writing thank you notes by hand, and licking the stamps to put on the letter; the lack of reading; peace and quiet. It’s a rant to our insensitive times and I wouldn’t mind hearing that speech every day for years, as long as David Hyde Pierce says it.

Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike is a love letter to Chekhov, the theatre, comedy, humour and the foibles of humanity. It’s terrific.

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