Sunday, October 23, 2016

Review: I Would Go To Hell With Anais Nin!

by Kaila M. Stokes

Anais Nin Goes to Hell is a salacious complex satire on women’s rights, desires, and society’s expectations of the female sex. First of all, if you do not know who Anais Nin is, take a quick trip to Wikipedia – she was the 1920’s version of Ruth Westheimer. She was a titillating writer who lived a bohemian life-style in a time-period where woman just received the right to vote let alone take multiple lovers publicly and write about it. The play begins with Ophelia from Hamlet suspended in the air singing about the setting of the play – hell. This part in the play was not necessarily needed nor did it add to the experience as an audience member, but the actress had a beautiful voice. Then the lights fade and reopen on Heloise, a faithless nun, and Andromeda, the daughter of the Aethiopian king in Greek mythology.  They are telling each other stories back and forth and waiting. Waiting for what? As the audience comes to find out everyone on this island is a woman waiting for a man. Queen Victoria appears with Joan of Arc then joins Cleopatra. The island is divided in two so Queen Victoria can rule with her God and Cleopatra can rule her way, in other words monotheism vs. polytheism. They all wait; wait for men, who after centuries still have not come for them. Yet, each character carries a certain blind hope that even has the audience misty-eyed and optimistic.
The waiting changes when they all see a boat off shore. Joan of Arc swims to retrieve it, even fighting off a sea monster. Who was on this boat? That’s right; Anais Nin was on this boat. This new aged thinker lands on the island turns everyone on their heads. She represents how the women want to feel, but won’t let themselves because they are too occupied with the men. Cleopatra and Heloise immediately take to her and she helps them discover what they truly want in life and how a man won’t fill that void. Ultimately, the island is divided because of Anais Nin’s beliefs. Queen Victoria, Joan of Arc, and Andromeda take off to find their men in vain whilst the others stay to believe in themselves.
Although a comedy, this play portrays all too real problems with the expectations of woman in society. The company of actors was flawless in their delivery in lines, emotions, and dialects. Each character had a story they shared about who they were and each actress delivered it with fearless integrity for the character! It was truly stunning to watch a cast of women play these women from history that we all know to be strong like stone – yet they are all brought to their knees by a man. What a commentary huh? The playwright, David Stallings, should be commended for writing a piece that has amazing female parts that are so flushed out and human. All too often women in shows lack a three-dimensional state because the story is surrounding the man. It is also a lesson in love; self-love. “We love in others what we love in ourselves” (-Anais Nin). Loving others is actually inherently selfish; loving yourself is much harder because it is pure.
photo by Jody Christopherson
The director, Antonio Minino, made the audience’s job very easy. Each moment was captured with no stone unturned. Each character took their time with the words and created a journey we all could take together through these women. Just as these women were discovering themselves, the audience was right alongside them cheering. What society paints you as, as a woman, does not define you. “You died as a mother to be painted by time as a whore” (-Anais Nin to Cleopatra).  In the midst of the heavy topics, Karen Carpenter sings to the audience from her own island in the distance. It is ironic due to the nature of her songs, funny because the cast sings along, and sad because of the lonely life she led as a woman. She was defined by men and now resided on an island by herself stuck in an eternity alone.
The lighting, by Daniel Gallagher, added to the nuance of the show and guided the audience along. Unless you were actively looking for it, the lighting just seemed to be a natural element of the scenes, which is the best kind of lighting. The sound design, by Martha Goode, projected the same thing. Subtle sounds such as the crashing of water, the distant singing, and hearts beating were among the suggestions of how the audience was feeling. The sounds increased everyone’s pulse to create a rise and fall of each scene and character. The set, by Blair Mielnik, was creative and simple. On each side of the stage hung long weathered ropes with decrepit looking wooden steps leading towards the heavens. Placed around the stage was tall golden grass and crates to sit on. The one thing that would have been nice is if those long ropes and wooden steps were used in some way. Anything on the stage should be utilized and as an audience member you were waiting to see how they were going to be used, but they never were.
Overall, Anais Nin Goes to Hell, is enjoyable and a must see at the 14th Street Y. The company is fantastic in their honest, bold, and emotional roles from women in history. One woman’s journey does not define all women, but it can be a guiding light.