Hell, YES! “Anais Nin Goes To Hell” is Sinful Fun!
Inferno. Hades. The Netherworld. The Abyss. Perdition. The E train in New York City after midnight. No matter what term you use for “Hell”, chances are that you’ll never find an underworld as sexy, or as funny, or as inspiring as the one brought to you by Manhattan Theatre Works and Goode Productions in David Stallings’ Anais Nin Goes To Hell. In the words of the titular character (played by Amanda Jones), “If this is Hell, Hell is Heaven!” The audience will feel the same way with this deliciously decadent new theater piece.
Anais (pronounced “Anna with an “EES”) Nin, for those who don’t know, was the iconic writer raised in France who made America her adopted home. Her large body of work included novels, critical studies, essays, and short stories. She was most famous, however, for her journals and her erotica, which were (and by some, still are…) considered scandalous. Throughout her life and well afterward, Nin the woman has been analyzed, revered, imitated, and criticized time and time again. One thing that everyone can agree upon, however, was that she was indeed a colorful character. When Nin shows up on an island off the River Styx (with her collection of NC-17 rated journals, of course…), she finds herself in equally interesting company: Andromeda (Mle Chester), Queen Victoria (Madalyn McKay), Cleopatra, Karen Carpenter (Hannah Seusy), Joan of Arc (Stephanie Willing) and Heloise (the French nun and writer, not the American columnist, played by Mel House). Wow! This is not just a trans-millennial Tupperware party, however. These women are all watching and waiting for something— and, for most of them, it’s the great male love of their lives. The sexually restless Heloise is waiting for her famously forbidden paramour Peter Abelard, while virginal Andromeda sits tight for her fiancee Perseus. Imperious Queen Victoria waits for her husband Albert, while her royal rival, the equally headstrong Cleopatra, is focused on reuniting with her son Caesarion. Most ambitious of all, Christian warrior Joan of Arc is holding out for Jesus. As for the heartbroken Ms. Carpenter, she’s sadly exiled on a nearby but separate island. (Apparently, Hell is an archipelago…) True, the play does contain some lighthearted K.C.-bashing… but the cast’s laugh-out-loud rendition of “Superstar” is the ripest tomato in this garden of campy delights. Speaking of singing, Anais Nin is NOT singing “I’m Waiting for the Man” like the other women; in fact, the free-spirited femme who was notoriously married to two men at once is now happy to have escaped the male animal altogether…
…But not for long. As we approach Act 2, the sinewy Cleopatra (played by Nylda Mark with a generous dose of Josephine Baker-esque sex appeal) does a dance of sorcery and seduction to summon a man to the island. The dance works. However, when their long-legged hero arrives, the women realize they should have been, uhm… “more specific”. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that this British lord (Richard Lindenfelzer) is looking for something a little more “wilde”. In the meantime, Anais Nin’s arrival to the island of women adds some unexpected sexual tension, some erotic awakenings among her island-mates, and yet another male visitor (James Edward Becton) summoned by Cleopatra. This time, it’s personal for the Egyptian queen.
As you may have gathered by now, Anais Nin Goes To Hell is campy fun, with a seemingly infinite number of priceless comedic lines by a diverse, talented cast. There are also an equal number of ageless (and in some ways, more relevant in 2016 than ever…) words of wisdom courtesy of our Ms. Nin, such as “The love between women is a refuge and an escape into harmony.” Underneath the comedy, there are serious themes about female empowerment. This is the “right to choose” of a far broader variety: the right for women and their like-minded male allies to choose happiness, and also the right to fight for that happiness. Anais Nin Goes to Hell is bolstered by energetic direction by Antonio Minino and fabulous costumes by Izzy Fields. This is a trip to Hell worth going to, in a hand-basket or otherwise.
Anais Nin Goes To Hell runs through Saturday, October 29 at The Theater at the 14th Street Y”, 344 East 14th Street, New York City. For more information and tickets, visit www.14StreetY.org/AnaisNin.