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Venus In Fur (#110 of 6)

Tales from Red Vienna Interview with David Grimm

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Tales from Red Vienna Interview with David Grimm
Tales from Red Vienna Interview with David Grimm

In Tales from Red Vienna, a Manhattan Theatre Club presentation at New York City Center, a financially strapped Viennese society lady whose husband was killed in World War I is forced to take up prostitution in the former capital of the collapsed Austro-Hungarian empire. The production, directed by Kate Whoriskey, features a cast headed by a formidable troika of New York actresses: Nina Arianda (Tony Award winner for Venus in Fur), Tina Benko (Jackie), and Kathleen Chalfant (an Obie Award winner for Wit). The playwright, David Grimm, has a flair for bringing a witty and theatrical perspective to noteworthy moments in world history, and his work shows eclectic range: Kit Marlowe, a spirited bio of the rakish Elizabethan playwright, spy, and sexual outlaw; Measure for Pleasure, a the bawdy, gender-bending Restoration farce; Steve and Idi, in which the ghost of the notorious African dictator commissions a play from a struggling gay writer; and The Learned Ladies of Park Avenue, a Moliere comedy reset in Jazz Age New York. Most recently, he provided additional dialogue for River of Fundament, Matthew Barney’s visionary take on Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings and the Egyptian Book of the Dead. “I can’t see a rock that I can’t pick up, look underneath, and say, ’Take a look at this—let’s put that on stage,’” says Grimm about his interest in poking underneath the surfaces of history. When I met with the playwright, I asked him about the origins of Tales from Vienna and his interest in carnal activities in the context of world history.

Revise, Revive, Recycle: A Season in Theater, So Far

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Revise, Revive, Recycle: A Season in Theater, So Far
Revise, Revive, Recycle: A Season in Theater, So Far

Broadway openings are like yellow-rumped warblers. They avoid the city in winter and summer, come swooping back at the start of spring—and they feather their nests with debris. Putting an ear to this theatrical season, one hears—over the occasional chirp of a distinctive voice—the producers’ incessant call to revise, revive, recycle. Thirty or so productions are looking to land on New York stages before May. Most are based on old material. In preparation, it’s only fitting to look back at the season so far. We’ll see how the clutter of the past can either stifle life or, like our flying friends’ housekeeping habits, help sustain it.

The best of the fall offerings was Follies, which moves to Los Angeles next month. The third revival in a decade proved the charm by lucidly exposing the derangement of, ironically enough, revivalism. Eric Schaeffer’s production, like star Bernadette Peters’s performance, lacked buoyancy. But their laser-like focus cut to the quick of the show’s hard truths.

The setting is the farewell party for an old theater palace on the eve of its demolition. From her entrance, Peters’s former chorus girl Sally makes it clear she’s come to win back her old flame, Ben (the hearty Ron Raines), and she doesn’t care who knows it—not his wife, fellow ex-chorine, Phyllis (a blistering Jan Maxwell), nor Sally’s husband, Buddy (Danny Burstein, so ingratiating you want to bring him home to mama). The blinding obviousness of her mania—“I’m going to live forever with the man I love”—spotlights the insanity in every character’s illusions.

2011 Theater Fall Preview

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2011 Theater Fall Preview
2011 Theater Fall Preview

With Labor Day, summer vacations, and weekend getaways behind us, it’s time again to tune into the city’s arts and culture vibe. The House checked out the wide variety of theater offerings for Broadway and beyond this fall and made a few selections to put on your calendar:

New Plays

This season is notable for the number of women playwrights with new plays on Broadway. One of them is 29-year-old Katori Hall, who makes her Broadway debut with The Mountaintop (from September 22 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater). In her fictional account, which takes place in 1968, on the night before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in her own home town of Memphis, the playwright imagines a late-night encounter between King and a mysterious woman. Movie and television star Samuel L. Jackson plays the great civil rights leader and Angela Bassett the nocturnal visitor. The production is directed by Kenny Leon, who received a Tony nomination last year for directing Fences. Leon also helms the production of Stick Fly (from November 18 at the Cort Theater), which marks the Broadway debut of another African-American female playwright, Lydia R. Diamond. Stick Fly is a comedy of manners about an affluent black family spending a summer weekend at their home in Martha’s Vineyard.

Adam Rapp is well-known for not pulling his punches, so brace yourself for his latest, Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling (starts September 13 at CSC), a surreal play that promises to “lift the veil on the lives of two wealthy American families” in Connecticut. The Atlantic Theater Company production features a dream cast which includes Christine Lahti, Cotter Smith, Katherine Waterston, and the incomparable Reed Birney.

Great Performances: The Temperamentals and Venus in Fur

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Great Performances: <em>The Temperamentals</em> and <em>Venus in Fur</em>
Great Performances: <em>The Temperamentals</em> and <em>Venus in Fur</em>

The Temperamentals could have easily been the title for The Boys in the Band, given that the latter’s party guests fit that description to a T, and it’s interesting that both works are sharing the same season. Both are about a group of men who, despite their differences, try to make sense of what it is to be gay in their society. Except that this play, sensitively written by Jon Marans (Old Wicked Songs), goes back all the way to the early ’50s, when gay wasn’t even a state of mind yet. Cue the advent of the Mattachine Society, a politically based platform begun by married, somewhat conservative Harry Hay (Thomas Jay Ryan), slowly embracing his homosexuality, and his Jewish émigré lover Rudi Gernreich (Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie), and their difficult efforts trying to get a group together to create a faction for men who felt disenfranchised (calling themselves “temperamental”), much like black Americans did in the same time period.