Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Goddess Appears

To celebrate what would have been my mother's eighty-ninth birthday last night (had she not died on February 4), went to a play. She'd certainly have approved.

The best new play I’ve seen in years: Venus in Fur. (by David Ives, a witty man.) A playwright (Wes Bentley) has made a play out of Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novel, the eponym of Sado-Masochism (which novel everyone knows about but no one seems to have read – anyway, I sure haven’t), and he’s annoyed with all the actresses who have auditioned, and at the last minute one more shows up (the divine Nina Arianda), apparently a typical ditzy New York/L.A. brainless blonde, screaming, “Fuck!” when things go wrong, wearing inappropriate (for the era) fetish clothes, not understanding his allusions.

She nonetheless insists he let her read for him, “You don’t have to tell me about sado-masochism; I work in the theater.” And she puts on a Victorian dress and suddenly, like a light-switch, she’s a self-possessed aristocratic Austro-Hungarian of the 1870s with an entirely different accent (more or less British) and entirely different manner and movements, and he falls under her spell, and then every now and then she snaps out of it, is a ditz again (with no pause, it’s hilarious just to hear her do it, the moment you hear her whiny American accent the illusion shatters and we’re back in the rehearsal room), and she leaves him utterly bewildered and gradually demolishes him, exploiting the sado-masochistic feelings he’s always denied - and turns out (possibly) to be the goddess Aphrodite come to punish him for his self-suppression and his male condescension to women - and by the end she has him eagerly playing a girl whom she, as a man, exploits and crushes - most amazing (and funniest) performance I’ve seen on any stage in years - and probably the best staging of the central confrontation of the Bacchae, though using hardly any lines from that play. A major pagan event. Absolutely riveting.

At the end, my date, Nika, said, “Did you notice?” (I hadn’t.) “While we were doubled over laughing, most of the people in the audience didn’t get it at all; they had no idea what it was about.”

One could spend a night, many nights, just watching emotions play on Arianda's by no means conventionally beautiful face. Wonderful, wonderful.

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