David Hyde Pierce on Lindsay Lohan, Dedicated Frasier Fans, and His New Broadway Show, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
By Andrea Cuttler for Vanity Fair
The Chekhov references are plentiful—as are the moments of hilarity and nostalgia—in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the latest Broadway show from playwright Christopher Durang. While brother-and-sister duo Vanya and Sonia (David Hyde Pierce and Kristine Nielsen, respectively) spent their younger years tending to their parents, third sibling—and narcissist—Masha (Sigourney Weaver) was busy becoming a famous actress. One weekend in the country brings the dynamic trifecta together (along with Masha’s newest, and much younger, boy toy, Spike) and drama ensues. Hyde Pierce—a veteran of both Broadway and Durang—spoke to VF Daily about the lack of Frasier fans at the stage door, working with Sigourney Weaver, and the state of child film stars today.
VF Daily: I saw the show last night. My face hurt from smiling. Did you have a good time? You look like you’re having fun up there.
David Hyde Pierce: Yes, we’re having an amazing time. Since the beginning of rehearsals, it’s been a really unique and wonderful ride.
It was Off Broadway first, right?
Originally it was a partnership between the McCarter Theater in Princeton and Lincoln Center. We did it first out of McCarter. We rehearsed it starting this past summer and ran it there for about six weeks. And then we made a planned move to The Lincoln Center. And then our producers—the Broadway producers—saw it at Lincoln Center and decided they wanted to move it. So that’s how we ended up at the Golden.
How has it been working with Sigourney Weaver and the rest of the cast?
I think part of the excitement that audiences have, aside from loving the play, is that it is so well cast. Like you said, we’ve got veterans and recognizable faces, but also the new kids are each amazing in their own way. And also we all play well together, which is fun. I think it’s always nice for an audience to watch people having fun onstage.
The chemistry is very genuine. Your character, Vanya, is this calm, cool, collected caretaker and voice of reason. Then at the end, he has this huge explosion. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a breakdown but a breakthrough, maybe?
That’s a really interesting way of putting it. I think maybe it’s a little bit of both. But I think you’re right. He’s not someone who speaks a lot, and he doesn’t think of himself as articulate. I think he’s sort of taken over the role of the parent with his siblings, trying to keep peace, struggling to keep things as they are. I think he’s very concerned about changes in his family and changes in the world and everything else—a lot of the things that we all think about. We may not be like him, we may not articulate those thoughts, but somewhere, they’re in the back of our mind. And yes, at the end of the play, it all comes crashing to the front of his mind and out of his mouth.
But it was a very accurate commentary on today’s society. Even Lindsay Lohan gets a mention.
Chris Durang has always been so masterful at incorporating pop and contemporary references into his plays. A lot of times when writers do that, it feels cheap, or it feels like an easy laugh. He always has such a keen ear. And a sophisticated sense of what’s going on. And he’s almost psychic. You know, a lot of stuff that gets talked about in the play, especially by my character—things about the climate change and all of that stuff was written six years ago. I remember when we were doing it in Princeton, as you know, at one point there is a weather report—sort of an apocalyptic weather report that a character reads. Well, in between Princeton and Lincoln Center, Hurricane Sandy happened. And because the devastation was so real, we actually had to adjust some of the lines because it was much too on the nose of what was actually happening in the world.
I think my favorite part was when your character mentions that Lindsay Lohan and Hayley Mills—both at one time Parent Trap stars—grew up to have such wildly different career paths. Why is that?
You can go back and say, “Look at Judy Garland.” She had quite a rough life. So it’s not like this idea that child actors used to be healthy and now they’re not. One of the great things about the speech that Chris wrote is that Vanya is not making a speech, he’s not right about everything, he’s not even always making the points he intends to. He keeps going back to the past to say how great it was and keeps running into the idea that some of the things he was talking about are actually stupid. What it becomes about is more how important those things were, and how the world has changed, just in how we relate to each other. And that, I think, is a more universal thing.
Even though these siblings clearly have experienced their fair share of dysfunction, by the end of the show—as the three of you sit on the couch, bobbing your heads along to the Beatles—you really do feel like everyone is going to be O.K.
I like to think that, too. Different people have different reactions to it. There was a very funny interview a while ago with a Russian woman who had seen the play, and she said, “Oh yes, they’re all happy at the end. That’s because they’re completely deluded.” That’s the Russian approach to happiness! But yes, for me personally, I feel like they’ve each had some sort of breakthrough. Chris has sort of given these Chekhovian characters the happy ending that they never get in the original plays.
The response last night was incredible. How much of the audience reaction affects you onstage?
The show has been very successful everywhere we’ve done it. It’s been sold out and has always gotten a great reaction. But now that we’re at the Golden, there are about 500 more people than we’re used to having, so everything is magnified. And this period of previews here, even though the play hasn’t changed that much, we’re wrestling with and wrangling with this huge response. Balancing when to allow it and when to try to rein it in so that you’re not stopping every line—that’s an ongoing learning process.
Everyone is so funny. There were parts that I didn’t know if you were stage laughing or if their performances were really making you crack up.
Oh no, that was character laughter. But if you were fooled, that means that I’m a good actor.
Well, I was definitely fooled.
Well, I’ll tell you this, it is playing the character, but it also comes from a genuine delight from watching the other actors and what they’re doing. I just allow that to show itself when it’s appropriate in the scene. But it really does come from watching them do what they do.
So you’ve done a ton of theater work, but you were also on one of the biggest television shows of all time. Are you getting a lot of Frasier fans at the stage door post-performance?
What I get at the stage door is stuff from Alien and Avatar. And then they say, “Oh, you’re not Sigourney.” You know, there are always Frasier fans out there, too. Frasier fans are a very friendly group.