nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
February 22, 2008
"This piece. It sucks. My friends. They suck. My girl. She sucks." So opines Owen, the hot young artist du jour who has just OD'd in Artfuckers, a play written by Michael Domitrovich and directed by Eduardo Machado about the young artistic elite of Downtown Manhattan. The problem is, throughout the course of the play, it's difficult to find fault with Owen's sentiment.
Artfuckers is about very trendy, shallow, and insecure people who make up the downtown art and fashion scene. Their nights out are written up in the gossip section of the newspapers. They spend more on one outfit than many of us spend on a month's rent. They have trendy coke habits.
In the show, this group of young, hip, pseudo-celebrities (and I suppose pseudo-friends) are collaborating on a fashion/art show during New York Fashion Week. The previously-mentioned Owen is set to put his latest art pieces on the walls of the event, but is having confidence issues due not only to getting a scathing review from the New York Times, but because he suspects (correctly) that his girlfriend Bella (a pale, red-headed model) is sleeping with his best friend Trevor (an up-and-coming DJ).
So, feeling the walls closing in on him because of the show, his work, and his love life, Owen overdoses. In his coma, Owen assesses his life and his relationships with the people in his life via a joint therapy session.
Through this (real? imagined?) therapy session, Owen's friends and peers are at first standoffish and uncooperative, more interested in bragging about themselves than really opening up emotionally. However, as the play progresses, they all admit how insecure and scared they are, wondering if their success in the art scene is earned or if they're just riding on the coattails of their more successful parents.
Now, this brings up an interesting question: are we witnessing real catharsis from these characters, or is this just Owen's imagination? If it's just Owen's imagination, then do Bella, Trevor, Maggie (Bella's sister, a press rep), or Max (a flamboyant fashion designer) really have any sense of doubt, anxiety and humility, or are they really as shallow and self-absorbed as they appear to be?
And herein lies a problem with the play: it's unclear if I'm sympathizing with these characters or with Owen's idea of these characters.
Having stated that, Domitrovich and Machado, as well as everyone in the cast, portray the downtown fashion/art scene with pitch-perfect precision. Tuomas Hiltunen is very funny and recognizable as Max, the snooty affected European fashion designer. Will Janowitz plays Owen as a conflicted and anxiety-ridden artist who may be the most (only?) self-aware character in the show. Nicole LaLiberte (by far the standout in the show) expertly plays Bella as a spoiled brat and the self-designated "Queen of Everything Below 14th Street." Asher Grodman plays Trevor as simultaneously self-satisfied and guilt-ridden for betraying his close friend Owen by sleeping with Bella. And Jessica Kaye plays Maggie with the right blend of sympathy and ruthlessness.
Kudos should also be given out to costume designer Margaret Moy, making the cast's wardrobes look simultaneously "cutting edge" and from another planet (particularly that black and silver "dress" Bella wears, which makes LaLiberte, who is in fact quite pretty, look like an alien).
Artfuckers is a well-made play that passes the time quite quickly (its two-hour run time flies), although I get the feeling it's as superficial as its characters. I didn't get a whole lot of insight to how this "scene" works, nor did I get a particularly dark or scathing satire of said scene. After the show, upon walking two blocks from the theatre, the play started to slip my mind, not unlike, I'd imagine, a fashion runway show: easy on the eyes, but without much substance.