Parody has roughly the same staying power as the latest YouTube video or a song written by a thirty-year-old about life in middle school. Highbrow parody, I suppose, can last longer—indeed, Kevin Brewer’s Island; or, to Be Or Not to Be, a recent, wonderful sendup of Shakespearean comedy, could easily sustain decades of revivals. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Christopher Durang’s manic, highly praised, and rapid-fire comedy, is an entirely different matter. “If everyone took antidepressants, Chekhov would have had nothing to write about,” Sonia (Kristine Nielsen) jokes in the opening scene, and this line is about as sophisticated and deep as Mr. Durang will get for the next two and a half hours. Granted, he occasionally pokes fun at the Russian playwright’s tendency towards expository dialogue, but otherwise you don’t really need to know Chekhov to laugh at the show. You just need to be familiar with a handful of his titles and the misconception that his works are all mopey and unfunny. It plays like a Chekhov-themed sitcom or an elitist version of those godawful movies that Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer annually evacuate from the bowels of Hollywood, except with the added offense of having pretensions of cultural superiority. Call it Not Another Chekhov Spoof.
The plot, though not particularly important, is a modern-day mash of Chekhovian tropes. Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) and Sonia are the children of two dead professors who spend their days in a house owned but not occupied by their movie star sister Masha (Sigourney Weaver). Out of nowhere, Masha appears with her new boy toy, Spike (Billy Magnussen), to attend a local costume party and inform her siblings that she is selling the property. An ingénue and aspiring actress, Nina (Genevieve Angelson), shows up to pick at Masha’s vanity and jealousy, while a soothsaying maid, Cassandra (Shalita Grant), uses voodoo magic to produce something of a deus ex machina.
I cannot recall ever seeing such a talented cast waste themselves on such a worthless script. Mr. Pierce is mostly kept on the sidelines, offering an occasional gay joke but rarely given the opportunity to explore Vanya’s deadpan sense of humor, while Ms. Weaver tends to overextend herself, hideously shrieking and pathetically prancing around like the cartoon version of Norma Desmond that Mr. Durang has written for her; though, in perhaps the play’s greatest moment, she does hysterically boast that Spike got an audition for the sequel to “Entouràge.” And Ms. Grant, who was a delight in the Pearl’s Philanderer, has possibly the play’s most difficult task, charming her way through an awkward, vaguely racist role. (Do we really need another gyrating, magical Black character whose only narrative purpose is to save white characters?)
It is only fair to mention that on the night I attended the audience was positively roaring and constantly interrupting the actors with applause. The phrase, I suppose, is crowd-pleaser. The crowd was pleased. I was not.