Simon Hale found nothing alien about spending an evening in a New York theatre being wowed by Sigourney Weaver. Here’s his review.
If you’re heading to the Big Apple this summer, blockbuster musicals aren’t the only shows worth seeing. A hilarious send-up of the works of Chekhov that deservedly won this year’s Tony Award for Best Play has had its run extended to August 25 – but you’ll still need to book soon before it sells out.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is not only a brilliantly written comedy by Christopher Durang but a perfect vehicle for Sigourney Weaver (the two were at drama school together) who shows she is as adept at drawing laughs from a live audience as she is at saving the world on screen in her “Alien” and “Ghostbuster” movies.
The 63-year-old actress (who is in the run until July 28 after which she will be replaced by Tony winner Julie White) plays Masha, one of three siblings – if not three sisters – who were named after Chekhov characters by their theatre-loving parents.
Sonia (played by Kristine Nielsen) and Vanya (by David Hyde Pierce, best known for playing Niles in the sitcom “Frasier” which won him four Emmy Awards) still live together monotonously in the family home having spent their best years caring for their parents.
Self-centred Masha is a famous four-times divorced actress who shows up with her randy toyboy Spike (played by Tony nominee Billy Magnusson) with a view to turfing out her siblings out in a situation made more portentous with a touch of Greek tragedy involving omens from their maid Cassandra (Tony nominee Shalita Grant).
In a case of art imitating life imitating art, Mash yearns to play her namesake in “Three Sisters” instead of parts like the lead in the “Sexy Killer” film series that made her famous – a joke on Weaver and “Alien”. She also laments the great classical stage career she could have had (“I’d be the American Judi Dench”).
Masha joins in all the Chekhovian gloom of facing up to middle age and decline as pretty young acting student Nina (as in “The Seagull” character and played by Genevieve Angelson) meets Spike as he takes a dip in a nearby pool.
But her indignation reaches its peak when she returns from a fancy dress party dolled up as Snow White with guests assuming she was Norma Desmond (the character played by Gloria Swanson in the film “Sunset Boulevard”) or a Hummel figurine.
She is also miffed that the dowdy Sonia upstaged her by arriving as Maggie Smith playing the Evil Queen from Snow White. Her impersonation of the great Dame is so convincing that it almost brought the house down.
So too is a monologue by Vanya that replicates the scene in “The Seagull” where Konstantin is furious at his mother for talking during his play. Here he becomes enraged after Spike ‘texts’ during a reading of his play.
With a vehemence that almost brought the predominantly middle-aged audience to its feet in approval, Hyde Pierce produces a lament on the time when you licked a stamp to send a letter and people were better mannered and had longer attention spans.
The two hour and 30 minute production brought a standing ovation – a not unusual occurrence on Broadway (a show that doesn’t get one generally doesn’t survive long). But on this occasion even by UK standards it was well deserved.
John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036 (until Sunday, August 25).
Written by Christopher Durang.
Directed by Nicholas Martin.
With Sigourney Weaver, David Hyde Pierce and Kristine Nielsen
Tickets for the show at the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036 are available priced from $62 (£40) by going to www.telecharge.com