Well, the A to Z Challenge is over, and I’ve stepped away from Cormanville to make a quick business trip to New York. You know, that high-rise place where they talk not about movies but about the theatah. But so many of today’s big Broadway productions are Hollywood-dependent. They’re either based on movies (Newsies, Kinky Boots, The Lion King) or rely for their box office appeal on movie stars in the flesh. This week’s announcement of the 2013 Tony Award nominees was accompanied by much head-scratching about why most Hollywood types got snubbed. Yes, Tom Hanks (making his Broadway debut) did nab a nom for his role in Nora Ephron’s Lucky Man. But journalists noted the non-nomination of such celebrity heavyweights as Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, and Scarlett Johansson, all of whom have starred on the Great White Way in 2012-13.
Another oversight: the divine Bette Midler was overlooked for her portrayal of a real-life Hollywood superagent in I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers. So a show biz legend (whose Parental Guidance I watched on the plane flight home) failed to get Tony love for depicting another show biz legend. No matter. Fans are turning this one-woman show into a big fat hit.
I didn’t see I’ll Eat You Last. Instead I got half-price tickets to a play I knew only from its unlikely title (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) and from the fact that its two top stars were familiar Hollywood folk: Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce. The author, Christopher Durang, has an antic sensibility that often takes on the Catholic Church, as in his wickedly funny SisterMary Ignatius Explains It All for You. But he also happens to be fascinated by the motion picture industry: he’s written several unproduced screenplays, and one of his first big stage successes was called History of the American Film.
Durang’s new play sounds like a nod to Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. But in fact it’s an homage to the late nineteenth-century family dramedies of the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Aside from the characters’ names, there are Chekhovian elements galore: a beautiful country estate that may need to be sold (see Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard); the return home of a once-glamorous actress (The Seagull); siblings too caught up in their own ennui to do much of anything (The Three Sisters). Sounds somber, but Durang’s play is extremely funny, partly thanks to Sigourney Weaver’s Masha, who sweeps in and parodies her own Hollywood aura. Masha is the grande dame type, the show-biz superbitch who feels entitled to run everyone’s life because she’s a certified movie star. She arrives with her own pretty boy, Spike, in tow, and his knuckleheaded enactment of the audition that almost won him a role in Entourage 2 is worth the price of admission. (And if you want to see what Ripley looks like in Disney princess drag, now’s your chance.)
Meanwhile Masha’s stay-at-home siblings meekly put up with the indignities she heaps upon them. That is, until the wonderful David Hyde Pierce (as Vanya) explodes into a diatribe about what pop culture has lost since the Fifties. He misses Tommy Kirk in Old Yeller and Annette Funicello on the Mickey Mouse Club. Sure, Señor Wences – who made puppets out of his hands on the old Ed Sullivan Show – was boring, but everyone was bored TOGETHER: a whole lovely community of bored people. This in contrast to young Spike, caught up in his personal playlist. Community’s what theatre is all about, and part of why I love it.
News flash: The $2.99 sale of the Kindle ebook version of my updated insider bio, Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers, absolutely must end on Sunday, Cinco de Mayo. Get yours while supplies last! (Huh?)