March 16 (Bloomberg) -- When Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” opened off-Broadway in November, I called this seriously silly play the funniest show in town, yet one with an emotional kick that lifted it to a more rarefied plane.
Happily, the show has re-opened on Broadway with its cast (the headliners are Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce), its bucolic Bucks County setting (David Korins) and its laughs intact. It’s even better on second viewing, a rare thing for a comedy.
Weaver plays Masha, a movie star not unlike Sigourney Weaver, who returns to the country home where her unfocused gay brother Vanya (Hyde Pierce) and terminally disappointed sister Sonia (Kristine Nielsen) sleepwalk through lives of, you know, Chekhovian torpor.
Masha has brought her vacant young lover Spike. Goosing the mix is the housekeeper, Cassandra, endowed with about 50 percent of her Greek namesake’s prognosticating abilities, and Nina, the lovely next door neighbor who catches Spike’s eye.
Each of the six characters gets a chance to shine in Nicholas Martin’s sparkling production, including Billy Magnussen as the physically gifted Spike, Genevieve Angelson as the clueless ingenue Nina and, especially, Shalita Grant as the indomitably self-confident Cassandra.
Through June 30 at the Golden Theatre. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: ****1/2
A dark and stormy night, a cottage in the middle of nowhere and Bette Davis with a chef’s knife. Sounds like a movie, right?
Craig Lucas’s “The Lying Lesson” imagines the aging movie star in 1981, coming to take possession of a summer house in Maine. She arrives in the middle of the night and is soon joined by the caretaker, Minnie Bodine, who is neither as small nor as vague as her name suggests.
Few playwrights are as maddeningly inconsistent as Lucas, whose peaks include “Prelude to a Kiss” and “Reckless,” and whose valleys include the more recent “The Singing Forest.”
“The Lying Lesson” falls toward the peak side, especially under Pam Mackinnon’s expert direction, as Bette (Carol Kane) and Minnie (Mickey Sumner) negotiate a relationship built on crumbling trust, mutual need and lots of film in-jokes.
Kane has the eyes, of course, as well as the glower, the expansive gesticulations and the ability to play self-adulation without tottering over into camp.
Sumner is the show’s revelation, however. A daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler, she plays the Down East country girl with a perfectly convincing mix of willfulness and vulnerability. She and Kane make “The Lying Lesson” an entertaining guessing game of who’s the teacher and who the student.
Through March 31 at the Atlantic Theater Company, 336 W. 20th St., Chelsea. Information: +1-212-279-4200; http://www.ticketcentral.com. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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