By Maggie Kissinger, Special to the Chronicle
Venus in Fur:
“Venus in Fur” reminded me of why we go to the theatre. We go to be invigorated, frustrated, amused, confused, alive. We go to live. This play shows what it is to live. It shows what it means to produce art and what it means to put oneself out there on the line. That is living.
Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of David Ives’ “Venus in Fur” was superbly structured in inducing a thrilling and darkly sensual atmosphere. Hugh Dancy performs the role of Thomas, a frustrated playwright living just on the edge of life, hiding behind society-induced denial and fear of raw power and emotion. Nina Arianda is Vanda, the powerful temptress disguised as an actress aspiring for a role in Thomas’ play.
The play starts off with a literally bang. A flash of lighting and a crack of thunder signal the removal of the satin purple cover over the set and Dancy grabs the audience as he wastes no time beginning the show. Superb lighting and sound execution keeps the storm going throughout the whole show, guiding the metaphor it has against the story. Arianda and Dancy have powerful chemistry on stage. Together they create an erotic tension that leaves the audience rapt and stunned into silence. Simple activities, such as Thomas zipping up Vanda’s dress, or putting on her shoes, carry incredible, unexpected sensual weight and not a single movement was heard in the house.
Ives’ play didn’t suffocate the audience with all of the tension, however. The humor and wit that was deliciously brought out by Dancy and Arianda kept the play alive and surging. Arianda’s performance of Vanda was a brilliant display of energy and devotion to the balance of the erratic, ditzy, caricatured young actress and the elegant, smart, fierce woman living in 1870’s Germany she goes back and forth between. Dancy equals the intensity in his transformation from a composed, solid man who knows what he wants to the confused, aggressive and vigorous person succumbing to the power of lust and love he had hidden from.
The incredible performances by these two actors together with the compelling writing of David Ives and the superb design of Walter Bobbie, the director, and the design team provides an experience unprecedented. It is truly the definition of theater: giving us something that excites with its raw power, compels with its quiet strain, amuses with its sparkling wit, and stimulates us into action.
On Thursday, November 10, Hofstra Entertainment Unlimited took 20 students to “Relatively Speaking”, one of Broadway’s hottest new shows this season, which is playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theater. “Relatively Speaking” is three one-act comedies written by Ethan Coen, Elaine May, and Woody Allen. Entertainment Unlimited provides numerous trips and events every semester for Hofstra students.
“Relatively Speaking” is finding itself almost sold out every night and doesn’t offer rush tickets. It was a very special opportunity that Entertainment Unlimited offered. Tickets for students were $25 and that included the ticket for the show and train fare. Everyone sat in the same car on the way into the city to receive the group rate train ticket but received individual tickets to use when leaving the city. Students were free to do what they wanted upon arrival and received their show ticket from EU members outside the theatre.
The show opened with “Talking Cure” written by Coen. The curtain rises on a one-sided discussion between therapist and patient in a mental hospital. Danny Hoch plays the patient, a misunderstood tough-guy asking big questions of his therapist, performed by the delightful Jason Kravits. The scene shows the progression of the sessions with quick blackouts, giving the actors just enough time to change positions and show the progression of time through their physicality and mood. With each session, deeper questions with no answer crop up, all slowly revealing the mental incapacity of the patient. Hoch embodies the patient’s vigorous denial of his need for therapy in the hilarious way of poking fun at the doctor and constantly avoiding the real questions. Kravits draws the audience’s laughter with his slowly deteriorating patience and energy.
The scene ends on the mental hospital and effortlessly slides an impressive upscale dining room for the next scene, leaving the mental hospital split on either side to reverberate the importance of talking that the patient and doctor discovered onto the dining room. Katherine Borowitz plays an enjoyably unpleasant pregnant woman having the typical dinner conversation with her stubborn husband, played by the wonderfully sarcastic Allen Lewis Rickman. The conversation quickly turns into a protest by the mother that the father brings up Hitler too much. Coen dishes out, but never overuses, a multitude of Hitler jokes that everyone enjoys. Coen confronts the necessity of language and its role in opening relationships and discovering solutions to seemingly nonexistent solutions through talking in “Talking Cure.”
Elaine May’s “George is Dead” is something to revel in. Rather than chuckles and giggles, Marlo Thomas’s five year old in a sixty year old’s body, Doreen, causes outbursts of laughter at her helpless rich woman’s problems and frightened naïve perception on the world. Carla, played by Lisa Emery, takes all the sympathy as she tries to wrestle with the problem of Doreen and her dead husband. Doreen enters Carla’s apartment at 2 a.m. with the unsolicited announcement, “George is dead”. Carla is in the middle of a silent fight with her husband who still hasn’t come home and is no way able to deal with the antics and troubles of Doreen. Thomas creates a lovably annoying woman who has never had to lift a finger in her life and is now confronted with having to arrange a funeral for her husband. Moments like Doreen asking Carla to scrape the salt off of her saltines and hiding from her ringing phone elicit love for both women and steady laughter at Doreen and the situation it puts the frustrated Carla in. Thomas uses her punch lines to full effect, giving the audience the most hilarious images including a “coffin on the carousel at the airport”. May creates a stimulating act that starts out as an uncomfortably hilarious encounter to a discussion about the meaning of living and what’s important on that road. Carla’s husband, played by Grant Shaud, appears for only a moment in the act but stimulates the audience in that moment so much that the crisis is impossible to miss in his heated ranting about Carla not supporting his work and his job becoming meaningless and Carla’s desperate attempts to reach him. Patricia O’Connell’s portrayal of Doreen’s nanny when she was younger is sweet and endearing. She brings the story full circle by allowing Doreen to indulge in her need to be taken care of and lightening the mood for Carla. People just need to be taken care of, and May shows that in a warm, lighthearted and comic light.
The cast of Woody Allen’s “Honeymoon Motel” had the audience bouncing in their seats with laughter. His portrayal of Long Island Jews is not only uproarious but also fairly accurate! Two honeymooners, Jerry Spector and Nina Roth, played by Steve Guttenberg and Ari Graynor respectively, arrive in a deliciously tacky motel room, the perfect get away for a trashy father-steals-son’s-bride story. As relatives and the rabbi from the wedding come in looking for the two, the audience slowly finds out who the two honeymooners actually are. Caroline Aaron and Julie Kavner give side-splitting performances as Judy Spector, Jerry’s wife, and Fay Roth, Nina’s mom. They are both your bold, no-nonsense Jewish women whipping out saucy remarks that create raucous responses from the audience. Richard Libertini plays the intoxicated rabbit who dishes out random religious advice that makes no sense according to the conversation with brilliant gusto. Danny Hoch comes back
in with spunk as the laid-back pizza delivery guy who delivers unexpected meaningful advice to the family and closes the scene.