PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With David Hyde Pierce, Going from Star to Director of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

By Evan Henerson
08 Feb 2014

David Hyde Pierce
David Hyde Pierce
Photo by Joan Marcus chats with award-winning star of the stage and screen, David Hyde Pierce, who is directing the west coast premiere of Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.


A familiar face has returned to the Durangian-Chekhovian wars. After more than a year spent "worrying about the future, missing the past" and channeling his inner Anton, David Hyde Pierce is back with Christopher Durang's Tony Award-winning comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, this time as a director. Pierce, who was with the play from its inception, is helming the Los Angeles premiere production at the Mark Taper Forum, opening Feb. 9.

The company is familiar. Returning from the Broadway cast are Kristine Nielsen, Shalita Grant (like Pierce, both Tony nominees) and Liesel Allen Yeager, who join Mark Blum, Christine Ebersole and David Hull.

The Tony-winning Hyde Pierce (Curtains, Spamalot), who has been increasing his directing output of late, spoke with shortly before the company came west.

How did this opportunity come about?

David Hyde Pierce: What happened was our beloved director Nicholas Martin, who had directed the show in its original production, first at the McCarter Theater in Princeton and then the Mitzi Newhouse in Lincoln Center and finally on Broadway, was going to direct the production in L.A. I was not going to be involved because I wasn't really available, and then Nicky had stuff come up so he just very abruptly had to withdraw, and he asked me to take over. He knew that I had been directing the last few years and also he knew that I love the show very much, and of course I knew it from being in it. So, I guess those were some of the reasons that he and, I think, Chris as well felt like I might be a good candidate rather than going to a director who wasn't familiar especially with this production. Design-wise, it's our production from Broadway. The set is the same, the lighting and costume designers are new, but half of our cast is the same. It's meant to be fundamentally what we did, what we created over the last year and brought to Broadway.

You have said in previous interviews that you're not really interested in repeating what you've done before. How is this assignment not repetitive?

DHP: That's a very good point. It's one of the reasons why I probably wasn't going to act in the play originally when it was coming west. I had other commitments as well which kept me from doing it, but after having done it for a year, frankly, I thought I needed a break from it. But directing it is a whole different animal and especially the challenge of directing a piece that you've been in, directing it in a way to reflect the way it was originally done, and yet to accommodate half the cast being new people — that was a challenge that made it very interesting to me. The other thing was to help out Nicky and Chris, both of whom I'm very close with and both of whom I owe a lot to. I didn't take any time at all to say yes.

The credit line says "Directed by David Hyde Pierce based on the Broadway direction of Nicholas Martin." If you're working off someone else's blueprint, are you able to put your own stamp on the piece?

DHP: First of all, I love our production, and the thing about coming in to direct this is we are at a very a multi-faceted experience with Vanya because we started it in Princeton on a proscenium stage. We brought it to Lincoln Center which is a thrust stage very much like the Mark Taper Forum, and then we brought it to Broadway back to a proscenium stage. We also started out with Sigourney Weaver playing the role of Masha and then finished up on Broadway with Julie White. So although it was always fundamentally the same production, even within that context, we all experienced how it can change, how different it can be and still be our show. When I accepted the job, I didn't have any thought of putting my own stamp on it. It's the production I believe in.

Through the course of rehearsals, things change because we have Christine Ebersole, Mark Blum and David Hull playing three key roles, and they are all wonderful actors with their own instincts. Some of the staging has changed. Some of the interpretations of the roles have changed. The costumes will be different because Nicky had chosen a new costume designer who had come on board. I got the opportunity and privilege to work with her and collaborate with her on the development of the costumes. So I guess without any intention, for better or for worse, I am making my own contribution to it, but all in the spirit of the show that we originally did.


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