Monday, February 17, 2014

Review: The Nihilists Triumph

On the heels of the Sochi Olympics, Femme Fatal Theater took a classic Oscar Wilde text and brought it to modern times. In Vera; or the Nihilists, a group of uprisers, led by Vera and Alexis, the protesters attempt to overthrow the empirical rulers in order for equality. As is the case in Putin Russia, all eyes are watching the rebels, from both inside and out. But unlike Wilde’s original, there’s a twist. In Femme Fatal's version, the title character is played by a man in drag, exhibiting the parallels of the times.
photo courtesy of Hunter Canning
A rarely seen play, Wilde's work focuses on the privileged and the commoners. After nihilists are executed for defying the government, small groups in Moscow are formed to overthrow the government. When the Czar and his inner circle discover the infamous Vera is aiding the cause, they vow to take her down. But before this can happen, it is discovered that Alexis, son of the Czar, is playing both sides, longing for rights of his own. At the center of the rebellion lies a tale of love. The love story between Alexis and Vera is captivating, adding new levels with the male casting of Vera. Textually, Wilde's play is filled with heightened language and dark material. But what directors Stephen Gribbin and Robert Ribar do so effortlessly is explore the text and bring it to the 21st century. This allows for the piece to remain poignant. They are able to delicately balance between camp and realism. The comedy that they, along with their first rate company, is able to find allows the material to feel fun yet humane. Gribbin and Ribar do a fabulous job of simplicity. With a large black box as their canvas, they are able to fill it and create a world with a basic set and limited, yet vibrant lights. Even with a narrator, there was never a moment of confusion or need of clarity of where we were.
The entire ensemble was stellar. They each had their moments of glory and played well together. Of course, there were some standouts. The biggest being Jake Lasser. Despite the title, the focus was truly all on Lasser's Alexis.  Lasser was captivating with his delicacy and ability to turn his character into a male ingĂ©nue. You rooted for him while you felt his pain with him. Chris Tyler seemed at ease as Vera. Tyler showed the strength of Vera, through calculated hysterics, while being able to add some subtle sarcasm in his physicality. Tyler's ability to make you forget he was in drag worked tremendously in the production's favor.  John Hume as Prince Paul brought a new level of sinister evil genius. His stealthy lurking in the shadows throughout the play added a wonderful heightened element to the "big brother is watching" theme. Salty Brine's hilarity as the affected Baron Raff is the high point in comic relief while Daniel DeStafano's power and masculinity as Kotemkin was the perfect polar within the play. Michael Axelrod, John Graham, and Dane Jerabek as the Nihilist trio allowed for some of the best moments in the ensemble.
With an all male cast tackling sexuality in an oppressed masculine world of tyranny, we're reminded no matter what, we're all the same whether you agree or not. The simplicity of this production allowed for some brilliant performances. If you missed this play, cross your fingers it returns soon. It’s good.