David Bishins and Angela Christian inAnais Nin -- One of Her Lives
(© Richard Termine)
David Bishins and Angela Christian in
Anais Nin -- One of Her Lives
(© Richard Termine)
Another Beckett is loose in Theaterland. This one's named Wendy Beckett, who doesn't seem to be closely related to Samuel by blood or theme. Having written a couple of dozen plays produced in her native Australia, she has now composed and directed Anais Nin -- One of Her Lives for Manhattan consumption in -- get this! -- the Beckett Theatre. She's also listed as "the driving force" behind Pascal Productions, the outfit presenting the opus in stage and published format. Beckett's participation is visible in so many aspects of the piece that the term "vanity production" begins to invade a reviewer's boggling mind.

In a director's note, Beckett even supplies her own review. She states, "To serve the style of writing of both Anais Nin and Henry Miller, the text has been written in such a way as to evoke both the literary voice and the authentic voice of both writers. The result is a curious insight into the imagination and psychological state of two literary icons and why we remain interested in them." She's got the "curious insight" part correct, whatever that means, for the play she's authored and guided is certainly curious.

The play is an impressionistic portrait of the dalliance in 1930s gay Paris that Nin (Angela Christian) had with author Henry Miller (David Bishins) and his free-spirited wife, June (Alysia Reiner). Interspersed with portraits of Nin's domineering father (Rocco Sisto) and psychologist Otto Rank (Sisto, again), the Anais-Henry-June triangle runs its libidinous course from Henry's meeting Anais to June's seduction of the willing Anais, to Anais eventually being left by the married philanderers.

The story itself is far from obscure. It's not only been told in the 1990 Philip Kaufman movie, Henry & June (which made headlines for getting a NC-17 rating), but is much more familiar from Nin's diaries, the literary qualities of which critics debate and in which feminists have found confirmation of women's strong sexual desire. In an August, 1944 entry, Nin declares, "I would like to convert the diary into a long novel....I do want to dramatize the conflicts of women. Conflict between maternal love and creation. Between romanticism and realism. Between expansion and sacrifice."

Perhaps inspired by those lines, Beckett has done a small part of Nin's proposed conversion for her. There's an abundance of romanticism and realism here and some expansion and sacrifice. The sacrifice, however, may be in realism's loss to romanticism. Beckett's conversion strips the characters of subtleties -- often while they're literally stripping. Although Henry was never acclaimed for his devotion to nuance, he had to have been somewhat less of a barreling, impotent bore than Beckett shows, and June has to have had a few more sides to her than the stalking pansexual Beckett parades. And Nin has to have been something more than an Electra looking for a satisfying father surrogate. The best written moment in Beckett's play is when, after she June and have tussled, the lusty June says: "I ought to strangle you...Because you slept with me to get to Henry."

There are some other intriguing, not to say erotic, moments on stage; and the better part of them involve what could be described as the soft-porn interludes. Steam billows from the stage when Anais and June shuck their outer garments and roll around in their dainties. There's another sizzling sequence where Henry has Nin pinioned against an upstage wall.

This isn't to say the actors are only valuable for their X-rated contributions. Christian -- whose earlier appearance this season as a title character was in The Woman in White -- wears black and red this time and has a mesmerizing spectral effect. Murmuring in soft French accent, she possesses a fragile-steely quality worth listening to as well as watching. Bishins does well as the exuberant, driven Miller, Reiner throws herself bodily into June, and Sisto shows a certain strength in both roles.

Beckett has previously written plays about Camille Claudel and Alma Mahler, indicating she has an abiding theme bordering on obsession: sexually predatory women allied to sexually predatory men. Coming from Australia, it's possible she may not know about Jean Harris and Herman Tarnower. Maybe it's best if no one fills her in.