Friday, December 7, 2012

Quick Hit Theater Review: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike
By Christopher Durang
Directed by Nicholas Martin
Lincoln Center

What's it about?
Three siblings named after Chekhov characters whose lives -- and conversations -- have traces of The Seagull, Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya and Chekhov themes in their lives but these folks are way funnier. Vanya (the always excellent David Hyde Pierce) and sister, Sonia (a marvelous Kristine Nielsen) live uneventful lives in their Bucks County, PA farmhouse. They gaze out at the cherry orchard and at the lake where a heron lands every day and wonder what their lives might have been like if they hadn't missed out by having to care for their elderly parents until their death.Vivacious sister, Masha (Sigourney Weaver at her comic best), paid the bills, but escaped to a more glamorous life as a successful Hollywood actress.

To Vanya and Sonia's horror, Masha considers selling the expensive home (a combination of interior and exterior of f the house -- is there some Chekhov here? -- by designer David Korins). She arrives for a visit with much younger, dimwitted actor boyfriend, Spike (Billy Magnussen) in tow. The two share a sexual attraction, but the perfectly coiffed and attired Masha (Emily Rebholz, costume design) worries about the age difference, especially when Spike takes an interest in Nina (Genevieve Angeson), a nymph-like, beautiful and young wanna-be actress he meets on the beach next door.

Adding more humor to the mix is Cassandra (Shalita Grant), the family's housekeeper who is gripped with strong clairvoyant visions, not unlike her Greek goddess namesake.

What are the highlights?
Solid performances across the board and taught direction. Kudos to Durang for a sharp, humor-filled script that has depth with regards to the Chekhov themes layered in there. Everything is really, really funny. In fact, the last time I remember an audience laughing throughout a show like this was at God of Carnage. Both Nielsen, who delivers a wide spectrum of emotions, and Pierce have soliloquies that are tours de force and Weaver is enchanting with amazing body language to tell Masha's self-absorbed, insecure story. Her turn as Masha talking like Snow White on her way to a costume party is a hoot.

What are the lowlights?
None. A lot of good theater.

More information:
The play was commissioned by and is presented in association with the McCarter Theater Center at Princeton. It runs Off-Broadway at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 West 65th St., NYC through Jan. 13. Tickets: 212-239-6200;

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Homosexuality
-- Sexual actions
-- Voodoo

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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