The light and sound board operator for Michael Domitrovich's new play, Artfuckers, is placed on stage like a DJ, an appropriate and somewhat dynamic image for a story about New York fashionistas and the downtown art scene. Director Eduardo Machado establishes his production's tone right off the bat with this unconventional move, giving the audience an idea of what to expect from Domitrovich's strange but always highly watchable black comedy. A splendid cast and Machado's sharp direction make Artfuckers a cool evening of theatre.
The play begins with the attempted suicide of Owen, a rising New York artist. The reviews for his latest show weren't good, and he softened the blow with an overdose of pills. However, from the time he gets his stomach pumped while laying on a hospital gurney until the play's final few minutes, it's questionable how much of Artfuckers occurs while Owen is conscious and how much is a drug-induced hallucination. Whether or not the author intends this is never made clear, but it is nevertheless engaging. Owen's examination of life in the fast lane leads him on a journey that includes preparations for a friend's fashion show, flashbacks to various moments in his life, and group therapy with his closest confidantes.
These include Owen's girlfriend, Bella, a pale, leggy supermodel ("I'm the queen of everything below 14th Street," she declares at one point); her sister, Maggie, a driven publicist ("It doesn't matter how you feel, as long as they're talking about you."); Trevor, an electronic music composer and DJ (who may or may not have had an affair with Bella); and Max, a former rentboy-turned-fashion designer. Their sessions take up the brunt of Artfuckers and provide the play with many of its finest moments, as Owen and his crew wonder if they should reform their shallow, hard-partying ways.
Domitrovich makes each of his characters unique and vividly three-dimensional. Max used to hook himself out not for money but for rare and expensive fabrics. Trevor hears the subtext of sex in every human interaction, which fuels his music. Maggie, struggling for attention while standing in Bella's shadow, tried to auction her sister off for $20 as a child, while Bella, like many of her counterparts, has withstood the pressure of growing up having the "right" parents and living at the "right" addresses. For his part, Owen is the archetypal overachieving son of a famous and revered father. Deep in Act II, Domitrovich thrusts the characters into a soul-baring section of self-examination in which they all reveal deep childhood scars left by their respective fathers. This could easily turn into a minefield of clichés, but the author and the cast easily avoid them with some deft, incisive writing and acting.
Machado, an esteemed and accomplished playwright in his own right, directs Artfuckers with compassion, but also with a keen eye towards the chilly, self-involvement rampant in its world (his and set designer Mikiko Suzuki's use of the cinder block walled theatre emphasizes this). Light, costume, and sound designers Lucas Krech, Oana Botez-Ban, and David Lawson, respectively, also make invaluable contributions. And, the production is impeccably acted by Asher Goodman, Tuomas Hiltunen, Jessica Kaye, Nicole LaLiberte, and David Marcus. All five actors inhabit their roles so thoroughly as to suggest that they are those people, not just actors performing on stage. This is very impressive work by everyone.
Artfuckers is both hip and moving, and introduces a company of talented artists worth keeping tabs on to a hopefully wider audience.