Just a few short months ago, I gave the Broadway “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” a rave review and said it’s the reason I go to the theatre. Since then, it won the Tony Award for Best Play and has debuted its first regional production at Berkeley Rep, opening this week.
It’s fantastic that a show so current and relevant comes to the Bay Area without having some big long tour, getting to us over a year later.
When I first saw “Vanya” I thought the writing was the star and it didn’t matter that Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce were in the Broadway cast. I guess it matters a little.
While I still thoroughly enjoyed this production, it lost a bit of its luster and perhaps isn’t the perfect play I thought it was. The two hours and forty five minute production seemed like 90 minutes on the Broadway stage – at no fault to the Berkeley Rep and its cast.
Writer Christopher Durang, whom I’ve always felt was a pro at mixing the sublime and sophistication in with the ordinary, may have benefited from one more round of edits before putting the show on the boards. I can easily see the first scenes in which Vanya and his adopted sister Sonia reflect on their simple life by the lake and how their literary parents named all their children after Chekhov characters might have been a tad tighter.
The second act’s re-enactment of Vanya’s “play” about molecules definitely could have been shorter. Much shorter.
But writing aside, the performers are uniformly excellent.
Anthony Fusco taking on the Vanya role from David Hyde Pierce on Broadway, makes it his own, having us soon forget anyone else ever played it. He is also given one of the greatest monologues in the second act and that will still always be one of the highpoints of the show. Sharon Lockwood as Sonia also shines and does a perfect Maggie Smith re-enactment at the show’s famous costume party sequence.
Lorri Holt is good too. But she unfortunately pales in comparison to the statuesque larger-than-life movie star Sigourney Weaver. Funny, on Broadway, Weaver was one of the few actors in the show who wasn’t nominated for a Tony and, although Weaver was wonderful, she seemed to pale in comparison to her wonderful co-stars. Apparently, Weaver (a real movie star) brought more to the role than one might have thought.
Mark Junek is also great in the role of Spike, having as much fun with it as the original Broadway actor. It’s tough to be funny and sexy and Junek does it with ease and is very acrobatic as well. Also, Heather Alicia Simms bites her teeth in the fun role of housekeeper/psychic Cassandra. Both co-stars have great stage presence and timing.
Richard E.T. White’s direction is also noteworthy, utilizing the stage so not all of the action remains stagnant and also knowing when to have the actors take pause for extended laughter. The set is actually almost a perfect match for the Broadway one – perhaps even a tad richer and more extended, thanks to Kent Dorsey.
One thing superior about this production than Broadway also can likely attributed to Dorsey - the posters of Masha's "movies" that are adorning the walls near the Rep's new bar. These are priceless!
Don’t want anyone to think I was disappointed. Sometimes when “perfection” is downgraded to “excellent” it may sounded harsher than it is. Since “Vanya” played such a short run in New York, it’s more likely someone who has never seen the show will find great joy in this production and not have to compare it to anything.
It plays at the Berkeley Rep through Oct. 20. Get tickets and more information at www.berkeleyrep.org.