Review Roundup: MTC's TALES FROM RED VIENNA
Manhattan Theatre Club's world premiere of Tales from Red Vienna, the new play by David Grimm, directed by Kate Whoriskey, opened tonight, March 18 at MTC at New York City Center - Stage I (131 West 55th Street).
TALES FROM RED VIENNA features Tony Award winner Nina Arianda (Venus in Fur), Lucille Lortelnominee Tina Benko (Jackie,"Brotherhood"), Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Obie Award winner Kathleen Chalfant (Wit, Angels in America), Michael Esper(American Idiot, The Four of Us), Michael Goldsmith (Off-Broadway debut), and Lucas Hall (Beyond the Horizon, Othello).
Tony Award winner Nina Arianda (Venus in Fur, Midnight in Paris) returns to MTC as Heléna, a woman who has lost her husband in World War I, and with him, her financial security. Struggling to maintain her way of life, she reluctantly turns to the oldest profession. Heléna manages to separate her secret life from her public persona - that is until she crosses paths with a man who has the power to expose and ruin her.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: A Manhattan Theater Club production, "Tales From Red Vienna" was inspired by its author's reading about Austrian gentlewomen forced to work as prostitutes after their officer husbands were killed during World War I. That initial encounter described above offers an ideal introduction to such a subject. It's a model of moody theatrical condensation, exquisitely designed and lighted (by Peter Kaczorowski), and staged by Kate Whoriskey with an emphasis on body language that speaks louder than words ever could...It may have been the sexual kink factor in Mr. Ives's play that made Ms. Arianda seem a natural choice for "Tales." But the kind of mannered, genteel humility she's required to assume here doesn't become her. She has a couple of bracingly spontaneous moments -- a sudden whoop of surprised laughter in a rainstorm, an escaped sigh of desire in a graveyard -- that remind you how talented she is. Mostly, though, she seems as confined by this play's stale artifice as the fresh young Heléna is by her suffocating layers of mourning.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Nina Arianda certainly knows how to make an entrance. For her Tony Award-winning role in "Venus in Furs" -- her last appearance on the New York boards -- she blew onstage in a gust of comic energy. In "Tales from Red Vienna," David Grimm's drama about crumbling social norms in post-WWI Vienna, she bursts in like a hunted animal. Shrouded in widow's weeds, the dynamic thesp collapses in an attitude of abject despair that she holds for a very long stage minute in this production from Manhattan Theater Club. It's an arresting tableau for a play that begins in breathless silence, but ends with such a groan that not even Arianda can make a graceful exit.
Linda Winer, Newsday: In "Tales From Red Vienna," Grimm takes us back to Austria, 1920, after the humiliating loss of its empire and a world war. He is dead serious this time -- really, three-act Ibsen serious -- which turns out to be engrossing for a while but surprisingly pointless. The drama does offer a major change of pace for Nina Arianda...Here she plays the subdued, suddenly destitute (but still sexual) widow of a wealthy man who died 18 months earlier in the war. With theater-royalty Kathleen Chalfant as the wise, comforting, bawdy housekeeper, the production, directed with acute emotional detail by Kate Whoriskey, attempts to create a snapshot of a world roiled by defeat, plundering ethnicities and wounded pride...The result is all plot and little deeper meaning, which suggests this might have been better as a story-driven screenplay.
Jesse Green, Vulture: Coital grunts and pantings are, presumably, a constant throughout history, if human nature is itself constant. But is it? Is human nature even a constant in any one life? It's something of an achievement that David Grimm's Tales from Red Vienna, a Manhattan Theater Club production, manages to raise these questions despite being a jumbled soap opera with no discernable point of view. Or perhaps it's merely an accident...Astonishing curtain revelations (there are three acts) can be fun in a farce, or effective when handled with care in serious material. But Grimm, so adept with period pastiche in works like Measure for Pleasure and The Savages of Hartford, can't seem to keep his eyes on the road here. The tone -- now romantic, now schmaltzy, now Ibsenesque -- wheels round and round, circling the plot as the Gürtel does Vienna.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: Set in 1920s Austria, this Douglas Sirk-style melodrama is a stark departure from Arianda's earlier, darkly humorous outings. And while it's interesting to watch this smart, quicksilver-fast performer challenge herself, she doesn't quite convince in David Grimm's oddball story of a woman's sexual and emotional emancipation...It's all so quaint and not always good, yet the show can be oddly satisfying -- Grimm aims for the kind of big emotions that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford once embodied. But this also requires embracing the play's over-the-topness, and this Manhattan Theatre Club production, directed by Kate Whoriskey ("Ruined"), plays it too safe.
Michael Giltz, The Huffington Post: Actress Nina Arianda burst onto the scene with her Tony-winning turn in Venus In Fur and has followed up with movies like the gem Win Win and Woody Allen's Oscar-winning Midnight In Paris, not to mention her Tony-nominated Broadway debut inBorn Yesterday. Tales From Red Vienna is not a similar success but playwright David Grimm is a serious talent with support from The Public, Sundance, Hartford Stage and others. Perhaps they'll click on some future project and her commitment to him will pay off. For now, we have a muddled effort of noble intent that is likely a stumble on the way to further success or -- perhaps -- an indication of questionable taste from her team.
Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: For a play about survival, David Grimm's "Tales From Red Vienna," barely registers a pulse. Credit a snoozy script - three acts' worth, no less - and a star who's out of her comfort zone. In post-World War I Austria, Helena Altman (Nina Arianda) resorts to the oldest profession to support herself after her husband's battlefield death.
Robert Feldberg, NorthJersey.com: It's especially disappointing to see the talented, Tony-winning Arianda ("Venus in Fur"), who was raised in Clifton, saddled with such an un-actable character. Director Kate Whoriskey, who won accolades for staging "Ruined" in 2008, probably won't lead her résumé with this, either. Some jobs are better left forgotten.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus