Sometimes, dead silence is the loudest applause.
Indeed, the best moments in theatergoing—staggering moments, spine-tingling moments—often cast a heavy, suspended quiet, not a clappy rumble. There sits the audience, overwhelmed and totally involved, the noisy slapping of hands the last of its concerns.
Such an earned, weighted silence came towards the end of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the rollicking and sweet and beautiful new comedy now at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, soon to greet New Yorkers at Lincoln Center Theater. Kristine Nielsen, playing the frustrated, underloved Sonia, gets a quietly soaring moment that, at the performance I attended, sucked the wind out of the theater. Having attended a costume party the night before, and having been a smash success as “Maggie Smith,” and having finally—finally!—stepped out of the shadow of her movie star sister (Masha, Sigourney Weaver), Sonia fields a phone call from a man who is asking her out.
That’s never happened before.
Sonia handles the man with her typical self-depricating fatalism: No, no, she can’t see him Saturday, so sorry. She’s busy. Yes, she’s quite busy.
Another door shut.
They keep talking.
She pauses, jokes, “rechecks her planner.” Maybe, well, maybe.
No, not maybe, yes.
As handled by Nielsen, the moment is momentous and heartbreaking. A woman is offered a surprise gift, and, fighting habit and comfort, says yes.
And when the phone monologue ends, you don’t clap. No, what you’ve witnessed is too intimate for that.
You just sit.
What could be better?
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, by Christopher Durang
Directed by Nicholas Martin
McCarter Theatre, through October 14
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Pictured: Shalita Grant, Kristine Nielsen and David Hyde Pierce