Tales from Red Vienna
By David Grimm
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Costumes by Anita Yavich
Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club
By Lauren Yarger
It has three acts, two intermissions, great sets, lots of sex and a stellar cast, but the world premiere of David Grimm’s new play, Tales from Red Vienna, about life in post World War I Vienna, doesn’t have a lot to say.
Nina Arianda turns in a powerful performance – as always – as widowed Helena Altman, forced into prostitution to pay the bills after her husband, Stefan, is killed in the war. Her maid and friend, Edda Schmidt (Kathleen Chalfant), knows what her mistress is doing, but keeps quiet while repairing torn dresses or tidying up evidence of the sexual encounters. She also runs interference for Helena with young Rudy Zuckermaier (Michael Goldsmith), the son of their grocer, who has fallen head over heals in love with the widow.
Helena’s impoverished state isn’t easy to hide from childhood friend Mutzi von Fessendorf (Tina Benko), however, She stops by for a visit -- the first in 18 months -- and discovers that her friend has fallen from the prosperity they both once shared as society matrons. Mutzi, still has her dignitary husband, even if she has a lustful eye on someone else: socialist journalist Bela Hoyos (Michael Esper), She decides to be magnanimous and introduce the eligible bachelor to Helena under the guise of finding her a suitor, but really, she just wants an excuse to be able to spend time with Bela in public as a "chaperone."
The meeting has unexpected results, however, and Mutzi turns her attentions to introducing another man, Karl Hupka (Lucas Hall), to Helena instead.
What are the Highlights?
- Director Kate Whoriskey brings out top-notch performances from all of the performers. Helena is full of depth, Edda and Mutzi are funny, and Bela is a mix of charming and repulsive.
- The set, designed by John Lee Beatty is a work of art. A blue curtain hides the architecture of Vienna -- as well as some of Helena's sexual encounters -- behind it like a veil. A cemetery is multi-dimensional and intricately detailed. And it rains. all on a very tiny stage.
- There's a plot twist at the end of the second act that causes the audience to audibly gasp.
What are the LowLights?
- Three acts and two intermissions later, the plot doesn't take us anywhere satisfying. A man in the audience behind me said at each intermission and after the final curtain," I keep expecting it to go deeper..."
- Very few plays need to be three acts....
- The character of Rudy could be completely cut from the mix. His devotion to Helena doesn't add anything to the story.
Tales from Red Vienna plays at NY City Center Stage I, 1321 West 55th St., NYC. http://talesfromredvienna.com/
Christians might like to know:
-- Very explicit sexual scenes
-- God's name taken in vain