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In an era where actors seem to be migrating away from movies to television, David Hyde Pierce transitioned to theater 10 years ago when the hit comedy Frasier went off the air. In 2007 he won the Tony for Curtains, a musical in which he played a Boston cop investigating a murder in a theater. And in 2013 he was nominated for his performance as Vanya in Christopher Durang’s smash hit comedy, Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike, which won the Tony for Best Play.
Pierce returns to the play as director for its Los Angeles run at the Mark Taper Forum through March 9. “I didn’t really want to direct,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I wanted to get away from TV for a while and have an opportunity to do a musical and then I just stayed because I loved it so much. And now this director thing has started to take hold of me.”
In the play, Vanya and Sonya live in a Pennsylvania country house owned by their sister, Masha, who went off to become a movie star while they spent the best years of their lives nursing their theater-loving parents, which explains their Chekhovian monikers. When Masha and her boy toy, Spike, pay a visit, old wounds open up and neuroses run riot.
In the L.A. production, Pierce directs Mark Blum in the role of Vanya, an aspiring playwright mired in middle-age despair. Having originated the part Off-Broadway, Pierce might have been conflicted directing another actor in the role, but instead found that the strength of the writing left it open to a range of interpretations.
“It was a real collaboration and a real amicable back-and-forth between Mark and me of me allowing him to discover his own way through the character,” said Pierce. “Not about how to do something but rather about the overall arc of the play and who the character might be.”
The other big change in the production is the addition of Christine Ebersole (Grey Gardens) as Masha, the Hollywood diva. Sigourney Weaver received mixed reviews in the original run, and, according to the Los Angeles Times, Ebersole is the main reason this iteration is better.
“I don’t agree that this is an improvement,” said Pierce. “Sigourney’s roots go so far back with Chris Durang and her style of playing the role is very much informed by all that experience with him in their early days together at Yale. Christine Ebersole, who is also fantastic in the role, has a whole different way with language, she has a way of tossing things off. But both of them have the ear for how Durang’s language works and that’s the most important thing.”
Next, Pierce will take back the role of Vanya and reunite with the original cast in London for the West End production this fall. And once that show’s up and running, there’s a musical he’s been developing called It Shoulda Been You, starring Tyne Daly, which he hopes to open on Broadway in the coming season or early next year. No plans yet for a return to television but Pierce isn’t ruling anything out.
“I might consider going back but I’m also so enjoying the world I’m in now,” he smiled. “I so love the theater and I love New York, so I’m happy.”
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