Monday, August 11, 2008

Review - Anaïs Nin Goes to Hell (Maieutic Theatre Works and FringeNYC)

Review by Byrne Harrison

Shelly Feldman as Anaïs Nin

It turns out we were wrong about the afterlife. No golden gates. No heavenly choirs. Just a chain of islands in a sea guarded by a man-eating Hydra. On one of those little islands sit some of the greatest women in history: Andromeda, Cleopatra, Heloise, Joan of Arc and Queen Victoria. While they had little in common during their lives, they are now united in one pursuit - waiting for their men to return and rescue them. It is a wait that for some of them has gone on for millennia.

This is their afterlife. While they scan the seas, they quarrel, play pranks on one another, and occasionally self-immolate to pass the time. That is until Anaïs Nin arrives. Diarist, bohemian, writer of erotica, student of psychoanalysis, and above all a believer in the power of women, her presence will shake the illustrious figures to their foundations and force them to reevaluate their lives and afterlives. Are these women really defined by what they see, or think they see, in their lovers' eyes? And is the afterlife merely an extension of their lives on Earth, or an opportunity to transcend them and release the burdens they've carried for so long? Anaïs may hold the answer, if only she can make them understand.

David Stallings has written a fascinating and thought-provoking play, full of humor, smut, philosophy, and a smattering of Karen Carpenter. If there can be said to be one weakness, it is that Stallings broadcasts the ending. Not surprisingly, the characters in the play are forced to a final decision – search for their beloved men or let go. By not developing certain characters while lavishing time and attention on others, Stallings makes it perfectly clear which characters will choose to grow and which will stay the same. A little tension during those final moments would be welcomed.

The ensemble does a good job with Stallings' work. Of particular note are Shelly Feldman as Anaïs and Aly Wirth as Heloise. Feldman captures both Anaïs' cockiness and her hidden uncertainty; she is, after all, in uncharted waters. Wirth's Heloise is funny, vulgar and above all angry. Angry at a life she feels was wasted on both her lover Abelard and the God she served as an abbess. Wirth shows Heloise's anger and her childlike delight at what she learns from Anaïs and gives a wonderfully moving performance. Also notable is Maggie Benedict as the sinuous and sultry Cleopatra.

Set, lighting and sound design (Stephanie Tucci, Dan Gallagher and Martha Goode, respectively) are well done. David "DW" Withrow's costumes are outstanding, especially his costumes for Joan of Arc, Queen Victoria, and Anaïs.

Maieutic Theatre Works has produced another winning play. Since this is a FringeNYC production, there aren't many chances to catch Anaïs Nin Goes to Hell. See it while you can.

Written by David Stallings
Directed by Cristina Alicea
Producer: Julie Griffith
Set Designer, Prop Master: Stephanie Tucci
Costume Designer: David "DW" Withrow
Lighting Designer: Dan Gallagher
Sound Designer: Martha Goode
Stage Manager: Stuart Shefter
Assistant Stage Manager: Jonathon Saia
Marketing/Audience Building Director: Antonio Miniño
Press Agent: Katie Rosin/Kampfire Films PR
Casting Director: Colleen Piquette
Graphic Designer: Lindsay Moore
Photographer: Erica Parise
Volunteers: Allison Ikin, Maureen O'Boyle, Robin Madel

Featuring: Maggie Benedict (Cleopatra), Shelly Feldman (Anaïs Nin), Jeremy King (Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas), Madalyn McKay (Queen Victoria), Colleen Piquette (Joan of Arc), Marnie Schulenburg (Andromeda), and Aly Wirth (Heloise),

Connolly Theatre
220 E. 4th Street

Aug. 8-24
For dates, times, and tickets visit