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Manhattan Theatre Club Presents "Tales from Red Vienna" at New York City Center
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Manhattan Theatre Club Presents "Tales from Red Vienna" at New York City Center

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Shon 45 Wines & Spirits
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Mon - Thurs 10AM - 11PM
Fri - Sat 10AM - 11:30PM
Sun 12PM - 9PM

Manhattan Theatre Club
Tales from Red Vienna

By David Grimm
Directed by Kate Whoriskey

Manhattan Theatre Club
NY City Center Stage I
West 55th Street, Btw. 6th and 7th Avenues

Artistic Director, Lynne Meadow
Executive Producer, Barry Grove

Nina Arianda, Tina Benko, Kathleen Chalfant
Michael Esper, Michael Goldsmith, Lucas Hall

Scenic Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Anita Yavich
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design: Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen
Hair & Wig Design: Tom Watson
Fight Direction: Thomas Schall
Production Stage Manager: Bryce McDonald
Casting: Nancy Piccione
& Kelly Gillespie
General Manager: Florie Seery
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Artistic Producer: Mandy Greenfield
Director of Artistic Development: Jerry Patch
Director of Marketing: Debra Waxman-Pilla
Director of Development: Lynne Randall
Production Managers: Bethany Weinstein
& Joshua Helman
Artistic Line Producer: Lisa McNulty
General Manager, Tales from Red Vienna :
Lindsey Sag

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 8, 2014

In David Grimm’s new, three-act play, Tales from Red Vienna, Nina Arianda is Heléna Altman, a sensitive and stoic World War I Viennese widow, attired in a long black dress and face-covering veil. In the opening scene, she enters a tired, but antique-furnished living room, before Bela Hoyos (Michael Esper) barges in for coarse, primal sex, with her anguished consent. A payment was made on the table, close to where the midnight encounter occurs. Few words are discerned, and few clothes are adjusted or unbuttoned. The man leaves in swift abandon, before Hélena pockets her fee. Ms. Arianda is cast in an exceptionally poignant role, a woman living on the edge, grasping to retain her social teas and cakes, her housekeeper, Edda Schmidt (Kathleen Chalfant), her wardrobe, and her in-town lodging. Karl Hupka, Hélena’s deceased husband, was her present and future. She supports herself and Edda, through the oldest profession, retaining refinement, sophistication, and some social status.

The set is dark and depressing, like a 1920’s, German expressionist film, even when Hélena’s hyper and manipulative friend, “Mutzi” von Fessendorf (Tina Benko), arrives with a proposition. Mutzi has an engaging journalist for Hélena to meet to cheer her up. Mutzi also has a plan for herself, wound in the prospect. The blind date for a party is none other than the man we saw paying for fast, dining room, sex, but a relationship grows, not only at offstage parties, but in the graveyard, where Hélena’s husband is buried. Most of the surprise events, twists, and passion happen near the headstones. The married Mutzi’s envy of her widowed friend’s fulfillment leads to sudden shifts in Hélena’s fate, with a guest arriving at the rain-drenched cemetery. The umbrella scene was evocative of the emotionally brewing storm. A secondary character, Rudy Zuckermaier (Michael Goldsmith), was a vehicle to include the Jewish condition in post-war Austria. Rudy delivered fresh market goods to Hélena and Edda, another symbol of social strata, to which Hélena clung, no matter the sacrifice. The youthful Rudy pined for the glamorous Hélena, as if she were a goddess. The fantasy generated occasional gifts of flowers and food. Edda was the grateful recipient of Hélena’s world, while she had her own offstage romance, as well, protecting her future.

Ms. Arianda, as Hélena, exudes vulnerability, vibrancy, and valor. Her final seen is both triumphant and sublime. Ms. Arianda is spellbinding in each and every scene, even in silence, a stunning contrast to her role a few years ago, in Venus in Fur. Mr. Esper, as Bela, morphs from aggressor to lover seamlessly and credibly. Ms. Chalfant, as Edda, is a seasoned actress, filled with stage presence and poise, even in the quasi-servant, household strata. Ms. Benko, as Mutzi, once reviewed in this column in a solo show about Jackie Kennedy, is a bit too shrill and breathless. The devious, yet needy, Mutzi could have been toned down. Kate Whoriskey’s direction shifts sadness to sensuality, despair to defiance. John Lee Beatty’s set has strategic and symbolic objects, of a former life of property and class. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting warms up with passion and revelation, while Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen’s sound design keeps the dialogue clear, throughout. The ensemble of six (one more character was key to the later plot) was cohesive and well-cast. Kudos to Manhattan Theatre Club.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at