If you haven't read a word of Anton Chekhov you'll enjoy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. But you’ll find it so much funnier if you have.
Christopher Durang’s modern-day update of themes and situations from the Russian master’s oeuvre just won the Tony Award for Best Play, causing its run at the John Golden Theatre to be extended through August 28. Catching up with the play again following its Tony victory, it’s easy to see the reason why it took home the big prize. Or rather four reasons why: David Hyde Pierce, Kristine Nielsen, Sigourney Weaver, and Billy Magnussen as the titular quartet. Their commitment elevates what’s otherwise rather slight material — Durang’s transformation of Chekhov into a self-referential comedy of errors. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is really no different from the playwright’s Durang/Durang, his collection of six one-act parodies of classic plays like Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, which Durang transformed into “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls.”
In Bucks County, PA, fiftysomething siblings Vanya (Hyde Pierce) and Sonia (Nielsen) greet the morning much as they always do: in pajamas drinking coffee on their porch, awaiting the arrival of a cherished blue heron. They’ve never had to earn a living — their famous actress sister Masha (Weaver) sends them money in exchange for being able to flaunt her fabulous movie-star life to them on occasion — and Vanya spends his days writing experimental plays, while Sonia pines for Vanya. Don’t worry, she’s an adopted sibling. Much of the play takes place on that porch, capped with a gabled roof, dappled with warm sunlight, and enfolded by a cherry orchard (because it’s Chekhov).
Though Vania, Sonia, and Masha’s sibling dynamics are very Chekhovian, Durang chooses to go meta on us by revealing that their parents were literature professors and community theater enthusiasts who deliberately named them after Chekhov characters. Some of Durang’s dialogue is overly expository in setting up this concept, with Vanya saying to Sonia “Well, I guess that’s what happens when your parents are literature professors,” as if she’s only learning of their profession for the first time. It’s the kind of conceptual futzing that’s frustrating.
But Durang’s material gets a shot of adrenaline the moment über-thesp Masha appears, threatening to sell their house out from under them and flaunting her vapid boy toy Spike (Magnussen), a finalist for a role on Entourage 2. Weaver’s Masha is in full Norma Desmond mode, crippled by both inferiority and superiority complexes, while Magnussen plays Spike with go-for-broke physicality as if he were a horny puppy dog — he humps Masha repeatedly throughout the show and performs a ridiculous “reverse striptease,” in which he starts with his clothes off but gives a Chippendales-style performance as he gets dressed. Once the laughs subside you realize the four characters represent four different coping methods for dealing with life: nostalgia (Vanya), hermitage (Sonia), escapism (Masha), and ignorance (Spike).
Durang tends toward the absurd, as he did in The Marriage of Bette and Boo and Betty’s Summer Vacation. Masha is determined to put her siblings in their lowly place by forcing them to attend a party where she’s dressed as Disney’s version of Snow White, while Vanya is a dwarf and Sonia is the Evil Queen. They stay in these costumes for much of the play.
In the second act, Durang starts treating his characters like human beings more than archetypes. Sonia’s role as the Evil Queen turns out to be a huge hit at the party, overshadowing Masha, and her sincere attempt at connection afterward, a lengthy phone conversation with a potential suitor, is hopeful and heartbreaking, a gossamer transformation perfectly executed by Nielsen. Vanya’s emotional breakdown after Spike doesn’t “get” his play about a molecule is a show-stopping five-minute monologue about his love of the analog era before the much-younger Spike’s birth and his contempt for everything that’s come since. Hyde Pierce may not have conveyed emotional fragility this acute since Niles Crane.
Though it’s hard not to think that Durang is really besotted with his own cleverness — and hard not to be annoyed by that — Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike is proof that serious neuroses don’t need to be taken too seriously.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt | Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter @Hollywood_com
Don't worry, everybody — things are going to be just fine.
The summer looked bleak when we found out that Jon Stewart would be high tailing it out to Hollywood to direct his first feature film, leaving the Daily Show desk in the hands of one of his bespectacled lackeys. We wondered how our weeknights at 11 PM could possibly live up to those that have occupied the past decade and change, if it would even be worth it to keep up with current events without Stewart's trademark nebbishy bite lining every story.
When the news broke this weekend that the NSA has been tapping our phones and Internet histories, we weren't even sure where to turn for a stimulating, intellectual takedown of the political atrocity. We were at a loss.
But again, we need not worry. It’s going to be okay.
Oh, not the phone-tapping thing. That's still going on, and it's pretty f**king terrifying. But the Daily Show thing will be fine.
On Monday night, longtime correspondent John Oliver took Stewart's desk, at which he'll stay seated throughout the host's summer-long hiatus. Coming right out the gate with a self-mocking bit about his own inability to fill Stewart's shoes (a shtick carried on by costars Jason Jones, Samantha Bee, Jessica Williams, Al Madrigal, and Aasif Mandvi — each of whom expressed mock outrage at Oliver's promotion to temporary headliner).
Quickly, Oliver leapt right into the NSA story (which, understandably, maintained a stronghold on the episode's subject matter), covering the entire ordeal with the sort of clever wit we'd expect from any episode of the show.
Of course, we will miss Stewart, and will always hold him at a plateau beyond the reach of any competition or successor. As such, we might find Oliver's gags just a little too drawn out, his interview (Monday faced him with Seth Rogen for This Is the End) just a bit too fawning, his overall demeanor just a smidge too… non-Stewart. But as far as non-Stewarts go, we got a bargain with Oliver. We'll look forward to our New Jersey-born Jonathan Leibowitz's return come autumn. But until then, we're in for a few pleasant months with Oliver at the helm.
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Former lovers John Mayer and Katy Perry reunited on America's Memorial Day (27May13) when the I Kissed A Girl singer opened her Hollywood Hills home to friends for a summer party. The couple, which split for the second time earlier this year (13), was spotted chatting and flirting with each other at the bash.
A source tells Us Weekly magazine, "They seem to be back together-ish. They were very flirty and having a really good time together. They have good chemistry."
Other party-goers included Mindy Kaling, BJ Novak and Beth Behrs, as well as Perry's actress pal Allison Williams and her boyfriend Ricky Van Veen, who is one of Mayer's closest friends.
British boyband star Marvin Humes has been nominated for the U.K. title of Celebrity Dad of the Year, just a week after becoming a first-time father. The JLS singer welcomed daughter Alaia-Mai with his wife, The Saturdays beauty Rochelle Humes, on 20 May (13) and he's already receiving high praise from organisers of the Premier Inn award for taking on his daddy duties.
Humes is shortlisted alongside the likes of retired soccer ace David Beckham, Australian singer-turned-reality TV regular Peter Andre, Take That stars Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams, and Sir Elton John and his partner David Furnish, who became fathers for a second time in January (13).
British comedian David Walliams and actors James Corden and James Buckley are also in the running for the prize.
The winner is set to be announced in the run up to Father's Day on 16 June (13).
Barlow took home the award last year (12).
Superman composer John Williams has mixed feelings about the latest reboot of the superhero franchise as he is convinced late actor Christopher Reeve was the ultimate embodiment of the comic book character. Reeve played the lead in four Superman movies before his paralysis in a riding accident in 1995 and his death in 2004, and the part was taken over by Brandon Routh in 2006's Superman Returns, and by British actor Henry Cavill, who plays the lead role in the latest installment, Man of Steel.
However, Williams, who wrote the famous theme music which has been used throughout the superhero series, admits he still can't get used to seeing other actors playing Reeve's most famous role.
He tells Zap2it.com, "I hope it (Man of Steel) will be successful, and I look forward to seeing it. (But) it puts me in mind of the late Chris Reeve, who we all loved so much. It's going to be hard for me, not to let go of the music, but to let go of the idea of Superman being Chris.
"I thought he not only made that project successful, he embodied what all of us imagine Superman to look like if he could be given skin and bone, I think."
Man of Steel will be released next month (Jun13).
British singer Robbie Williams shocked audience members at the U.K.'s Sony Radio Academy Awards on Monday (13May13) by joking about the BBC's ongoing child sex scandal. The Angels hitmaker took to the stage at London's Grosvenor House, and during his performance he referenced Operation Yewtree, a police probe launched following claims late TV star Jimmy Savile abused hundreds of youngsters throughout his long-running entertainment career.
The star said, "I looked around the tables and mine was the only name I recognised... actually, looking from up here it looks like the stars of Operation Yewtree 2014."
His comment drew a collective gasp from the stunned audience, prompting the singer to ask, "Too soon?"
Williams also launched into an expletive-filled rant aimed at Radio 1 presenter Nick Grimshaw after bosses at the BBC-run programme decided against playing the singer's 2012 hit Candy as the 39-year-old didn't reflect their target audience's music choice.
During the ceremony, former Catatonia singer Cerys Matthews picked up the Music Radio Broadcaster of the Year for her show Cerys On 6 (BBC 6 Music) while the Best Music Feature or Documentary was won by The Story of Ed Sheeran (BBC Radio 1).
TV and radio personality Dermot O'Leary was awarded the Best Music Programme prize for his self-titled BBC Radio 2 show and veteran presenter John Humphrys collected the Radio Journalism award.
Well, all of Star Wars' best non-Darth Vader villains have British accents, so this news shouldn't come as a shock. Lucasfilm has confirmed via StarWars.com that Star Wars Episode VII will be shot in the U.K., just like each of its six predecessors. Part of the choice is likely do with some sweet tax breaks that will surely be afforded to the production. But part of it also, according to Kathleen Kennedy anyway, is to honor the legacy of Star Wars and delve deep into the working methods and traditions that made it so great.
"We've devoted serious time and attention to revisiting the origins of Star Wars as inspiration for our process on the new movie, and I'm thrilled that returning to the UK for production and utilizing the incredible talent there can be a part of that," said Kathleen Kennedy, President of Lucasfilm, in the statement. "Speaking from my own longstanding connection to the UK with films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire of the Sun and recently War Horse, it's very exciting to be heading back."
Of course, the six previous Star Wars films shot all over the world: Tunisia (for Tatooine), Guatemala (for Yavin IV), Norway (for Hoth), Muir Woods, CA (for the forest moon of Endor), and the Italian lake country (for Naboo). But many of the best studio-bound scenes were shot in Britain at Shepperton, Pinewood, Elstree, and Ealing studios. Those are all places that aren't just associated with Star Wars, but have produced decades-worth of classic films from early Hitchcock and the movies of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger (Black Narcissus, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp) to the comedies of Robert Hamer and Alexander MacKendrick (The Ladykillers), and all of Stanley Kubrick's later films — yep, New York was created on a British soundstage for Eyes Wide Shut.
Kennedy's showing that she has a real affinity for film history with this move and a respect for Star Wars' rich legacy.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
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Movies that take place in the White House are usually focused on the President of the United States, but Lee Daniels' drama The Butler serves up a new perspective on the old location. Starring Forest Whitaker, Jane Fonda, and Oprah Winfrey (among a long list of Hollywood power players that make up the rest of the cast), the movie tells the story of Eugene Allen, the longtime White House employee who served under eight American presidents.
Allen was the White House's head butler from 1952 to 1986, and had a unique front-row seat as political and racial history was made. The Butler also stars Alex Pettyfer, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Melissa Leo, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, Terrance Howard, Minka Kelly as Jackie Kennedy, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Vanessa Redgrave.
Watch the just-released trailer below:
The Butler hits theaters October 18, 2013.
Follow Sydney on Twitter: @SydneyBucksbaum
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Star Wars is weird. It's probably been a part of your life for so long that you no longer recognize exactly how weird it is. I mean, composer John Williams uses a Charleston swing with steel drums to convey "alien music" at the Mos Eisley cantina — the same cantina where The Star Wars Holiday Special showed us Bea Arthur sometimes liked to tend bar. Han Solo randomly tells a helpful Rebel soldier "I'll see you in hell!" despite the fact that "hell" is otherwise not a part of the belief system of any known group in that Galaxy Far, Far Away.
GALLERY: 20 Really Weird Things in Star Wars
George Lucas spent millions of dollars just to create a CGI floorshow for the Return of the Jedi special edition. Not to mention the endless treasure trove of weirdness that is the Star Wars Expanded Universe, a vast series of novels and comics that have given us a Hutt Jedi, an interdimensional creature with a taste for human flesh (join the Church of Waru!), a giant green bunny rabbit who's a space smuggler, and zombie Gungans. As a celebration for May the Fourth (be with you), click through our gallery of 20 Really Weird Things in Star Wars.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
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Robbie Williams and Dizzee Rascal shut down a street in London on Tuesday (30Apr13) to film a bizarre new promo. The rapper enlisted Take That star Williams to appear on his new single Goin' Crazy, and the pair teamed up to film an accompanying video, which was based on cult British 'mod' movie Quadrophenia.
The pair rode on motorised disability vehicles decorated with multiple wing mirrors to look like Vespa scooters, which were popular with young men in 1960s Britain.
They also employed lookalikes of stars including Grace Jones, Elvis Presley and John Lennon to join in, and Angels hitmaker Williams reveals he jumped at the chance to collaborate with Dizzee Rascal.
He tells Britain's The Sun, "I have never been so urban. When I heard Dizzee wanted me, I was like, 'F**k yes!' The song instantly sounded like a smash. I love his vibe, his energy and he is a real talent. He seems to be the voice of this generation, so it was a no-brainer."