Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Spiraling Down in Postwar Vienna

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Spiraling Down in Postwar Vienna

Article excerpt

"Tales From Red Vienna," which opened Tuesday night at the Manhattan Theatre Club, is a terrific farce. Which isn't good, because, essentially, it's supposed to be serious.

David Grimm has set his tone-deaf play in seldom-visited territory: post-World War I Vienna, after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The title refers to the city's newly elected socialist government, but it turns out to be a red herring, since the political environment has little to do with the story.

That revolves around Helena Altman (Nina Arianda), the widow of an army officer who was reported blown up by a grenade at the front.

Plunged into poverty, she moves to a crummy apartment - with her maid. The servant, Edda (Kathleen Chalfant), is a laugh riot, and a keen observer of human folly. ("One should never mix alcohol and patriotism.")

Helena and Bela Hoyos (Michael Esper), a left-wing journalist, meet cute when he forces himself on her sexually. It might not quite be rape, because she's become a streetwalker, and he's already paid her. But at that moment she clearly doesn't want his attentions.

Later, after they've been properly introduced and attend a Mahler concert together, he begins to stalk her, which leads to an encounter at the cemetery where she's erected a monument to her husband. They banter, in dialogue that could have been lifted from a Marx Brothers movie:

Bela: "Make love to me."

Helena: "I think you'd better leave."

Bela: "You make me dizzy, Helena."

Helena: "Go home and lie down."

Bela: "I'd rather lie down with you."

Helena: "This is my husband's memorial!"

Bela: "So? He isn't buried here."

Helena: "Have you no decency?"

Bela: "Of course not. I'm Hungarian."

Coming between the two lovebirds is the delightfully named Mutzi von Fessendorf (Tina Benko), Helena's jealous lifelong friend, who's so selfish, vain and stupid that anyone with half a brain would have dropped her in five minutes. …

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