TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: Venus in Fur, Blood and Gifts & Seminar
Every first Wednesday of the month, get caught up with what’s on stage with our review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents. This month, we’re catching up on a trio of recent play openings…
David Ives’ twisty two-hander about a director and auditioner in a sexually-charged power play transfers to Broadway following its star-making Off-Broadway run for leading lady Nina Arianda.
“…Ms. Arianda is giving the first must-see performance of the Broadway season, a bravura turn that burns so brightly you can almost feel the heat on your face.” New York Times
“…the leads’ natural chemistry makes up for a lot — and it’s fun being left to ponder who’s on top.” New York Post
“[Arianda] dominates everything — even, it seems, the playwright, both the fake one onstage and the real one off. It’s an honor to spend an evening at her mercy.” New York Magazine
“…improves a lot in this Broadway transfer…Hugh Dancy gives hot co-star Nina Arianda someone substantial to play to.” Variety
Mizer’s Two Cents: So much has been said about Nina Arianda’s performance already (including by me) but…she is amazing, so if you wanted a cynical contrarian opinion you’re not going to get it here. While the play may be an extended comedic sketch at heart, it’s a craftily written, performed and directed sketch that makes for a thoroughly entertaining (and gently kinky) evening of theater. Bonus points to Hugh Dancy for not only standing up to the comic force of nature that is Arianda, but for looking so good while doing it; I’m a slave for you, indeed.
Author J.T. Rogers and marquee-director Bartlett Sher (South Pacific) delve into the dangerous alliances and covert operations of 1980’s Afghanistan in a timely and richly dramatic new play.
“You only need to read today’s headlines to comprehend the continuing human cost of the political and military transactions depicted in this engrossing, illuminating play…” New York Times
“…should be compulsory viewing for any serious theatergoer.” New York Post
“Despite a well-grounded and admirably lucid production helmed by LCT resident director Bartlett Sher, new play Blood and Gifts has no heart.” Variety
“…a smart, intellectually stimulating, and just-plain entertaining spy thriller.” Entertainment Weekly
Mizer’s Two Cents: You might want to sit down because I’m about to toss out a sports metaphor…this production has one of the deepest benches I’ve ever seen. I raved about Jefferson Mays earlier but I could have selected breathtaking moments delivered by many members of the supporting cast. Bernard White, Michael Aronov and John Procaccino create indelible characters that I wanted to follow beyond their exits and into plays of their own.
The play itself may not surprise a serious news watcher as it reveals the tragic ironies caused by the US funding of Afghan freedom fighters (to my mind, a closing sound effect is particularly unnecessary given how clearly the play has foreshadowed the future), but the drama definitely works as a slow burn spy thriller and kept me riveted. Much credit must also go to Bartlett Sher for his concise direction and the very effective decision (is it in the script?) to keep actors on stage beyond their scenes. It not only clarifies plot points (a character can be referenced verbally and physically even though they are technically “not there”) but it adds to the overall sense of physical danger submerged beneath the political dealings. In this world, someone is always watching. See it if you love a John Le Carre novel or want to watch some great, often unsung character actors at the top of their game.
Serverus Snape (or better Colonel Brandon to us Austenites), Alan Rickman, headlines a new comedy from Theresa Rebeck playing a writing instructor and temperamental novelist leading a class in fiction–and the artistic life.
“…shiny, facile new comedy…” New York Times
“…with actors of this caliber delivering the goods, it’s easy to just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.” New York Post
“Alan Rickman is heaven-sent as the sexy, sneering, snarling literary legend…” Variety
“Seminar has little of depth or authenticity to say about the struggle to put words in an order that says something true.” Entertainment Weekly
Mizer’s Two Cents: Alan Rickman may be the marquee draw (and an imposing, sexy presence), but Lily Rabe is the main source of enjoyment in this surface slick comedy. Following her Tony nomination in Merchant of Venice, the polished beyond her years actress proves that she can also get laughs while adding shades of depth. In the end, when the play began to leave her character behind, I couldn’t help but be disappointed that it was following a more expected path.