According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fringe/Anais Nin Goes to Hell

Famous French erotica writer Anais Nin goes to hell to teach classical female characters how to survive without men in this comedy that may rank high on laughs, but also ranks high on formula; it's gimmicky from start to finish. Also, if you don't have a good knowledge of history and mythology, some of the jokes will go right over your head.

Madalyn McKay, Marnie Schulenburg, Aly Wirth and Shelly Feldman photo credit: Erica Parise

Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Anais Nin, princess of erotica and famed lover to Henry Miller, left a trail of lovers and husbands behind. How could she not, with lines like “....I want a man lying over me, always over me. His will, his pleasure, his desire, his life, his work, his sexuality the touchstone, the command, my pivot.” In David Stallings' Anais Nin Goes to Hell, when she tells a bunch of strong women waiting for their men and sons that they can and should do without them, she sounds like the biggest hypocrite to them and to audience members familiar with her legacy. This is especially true because Anais, played marvelously by Shelly Feldman, who spent her life refusing to be in charge, is now offering herself up as a leader in this gimmicky, but amusing comedy to characters such as Andromeda (Marnie Schulenburg), Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas (Jeremy King), Cleopatra (stand-in for Maggie Benedict, Kristina Kohl), Heloise (Aly Wirth), Joan of Arc (Colleen Piquette), and Queen Victoria (Madalyn McKay).

With great, energetic actors who all have a penchant for comedy under Cristina Alicea's clever direction, Anais Nin Goes to Hell is very entertaining and fun. Martha Goode's sound effects, most notably clips of The Carpenters' songs inserted in unpredictable places, and Stephanie Tucci's moving cardboard waves keep the laughs coming, but stunts such as Heloise, Andromeda and Queen Victoria singing and dancing to “Superstar” are silly. Although Stallings' script does demonstrate the playwright's knowledge and admiration for these figures, it alternates between telling too much (well, it is hard to sit through a show filled with classical characters you know nothing about) and not telling enough (leaving out pertinent info like how and why they wound up in hell, or why it’s a fire and brimstone-less place guarded by a Sylvia Plath-eating Hydra ).

Between potshots at Christianity—Joan of Arc waits foolishly for a Jesus that never comes and Heloise, now in love with Andromeda, derides the very habit that she wears and her former faith—and two characters that believe in polytheism, the notion of hell didn't have to exist at all since it is mostly identified with the Christian faith. But Stallings gives each of these characters a very tangible hell-existence on an island without the men that helped define them in history and no one to commiserate with except each other. Despite Anais' quotable sayings about girl power, her reluctant feminist ideals, and her desire to change things and people even after death, the void left by the men doesn't get filled by the end, making Anais a failure at her mission to empower the characters as independent women. And perhaps that was Stallings' intent all along.
Anais Nin Goes to Hell (2 hrs, 20 min with intermission)
The Connelly Theater (220 east 4th street)
Tickets: $15

No comments: