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Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Durang’

Though he’s written more than twenty shows, we haven’t seen many of American playwright Christopher Durang’s plays in London, maybe two? This is my first exposure to his work. It’s his most successful play, winning both the Tony and Drama Desk awards for Best Play in 2013. As you can surmise from the title, it references Chekov. This transfer from Bath is delayed because of Covid

Vanya, Sonia & Masha are siblings, named by their amateur thespian parents after characters in Chekov plays. Vanya & Sonia, who was adopted, stayed in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (I’ve been there!) to look after their parents, whilst Masha became a successful actress, though maybe not a particularly good one. She’s been providing a home for the other two, though, for many years. She returns for a society fancy dress party with her toy boy Spike in tow, and some dramatic news about her future plans for the family home and therefore the lives of her brother and sister.

There are many references to Chekov plays and characters over and above the sibling names. Some might find this excludes them, but you don’t need to recognise the references, though it probably helps you admire the writing. Though it covers themes such as climate change and generational disconnection, it’s basically a light comedy that occasionally veres towards farce. There’s also a prophetic cleaning lady who seems to have stepped in from a Greek tragedy – well, she is called Cassandra – and a somewhat underwritten character called Nina who is a fan of Masha, a diversion for Spike and a muse for Vanya.

Janine Dee is great as Masha the actress, who sweeps in and dominates all around her. Rebecca Lacey relishes her sarcy, spikey lines and they hit their target consistently. Michael Moloney is very good at playing the gentle diplomat against his more fiery sisters and comes into his own in a second act monologue. Cassandra has a few scene stealing moments which Sara Powell delivers superbly. There’s little to fault in the staging, design and performance of the piece.

It’s a pleasant evening, but I was struggling to see why it has transferred after mediocre reviews in Bath to the highly competitive theatrical world of London, and even more puzzled that it was once the best play on Broadway. Perhaps the casting there of Durang’s college friend Sigourney Weaver and TV star David Hyde Pierce swayed it. For me it felt more like a night at a regional rep than a London showcase.

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A musical based on a 2500-year-old Greek play featuring Shakespeare and G B Shaw as characters to be staged in a swimming pool. Well, you have to admire the ambition of Bert Shevelove and Stephen Sondheim. This later version was meant for theatres and here we are getting the UK professional premiere at Jermyn Street Theatre more than twenty years after Broadway and more than forty years after the Yale original.

Sondheim appears to have only contributed choruses to the Yale show, perhaps as a favour for Shevelove as by now he’d had success with Company, Follies and A Little Night Music, but wrote extra songs for Nathan Lane’s revision. The Yale original is now probably just as famous for featuring actresses Meryl Streep & Sigourney Weaver and playwright Christopher Durang in the cast.

It’s faithful to Aristophanes in that Dionysos, the god of drama, decides that there’s a desperate need for good dramatists and heads off to Hades to bring back George Bernard Shaw. He meets Shakespeare there too and decides to stage a contest to choose between them (Euripides and Aeschylus in the original). Unsurprisingly, Shakespeare beats the old windbag (Aeschylus wins in the original) and returns with Dionysos. A simple story, but with a timeless theme of the importance of the arts.

Lane’s version is a bit of a romp and, though far from Sondheim’s best score, there are some nice tunes and witty lyrics to propel the story, with cheeky contemporary references which delight. It’s well staged by Grace Wessels, with great use of Jermyn Street’s tiny space and nifty movement from Tim McArthur. The fun that the cast of just nine, let by Michael Matus as Dionysos and George Rae as his sidekick Xanthias, are clearly having is infectious and the musical standards under MD Tim Sutton were particularly high.

An unmissable opportunity for Sondheim fans. 

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