If your first instinct when dealing with or thinking about such people is to slap them across the face and scream at them to grow up, you are not the intended audience for Artfuckers. Michael Domitrovich’s ice-cold steam bath of a play, which premiered last year at Theater for the New City and has now resurfaced at the DR2 Theatre, asks you to find sympathy for these troubled souls. Even if you might secretly be willing to kill for the kinds of problems they have, you must remember: They’re real people, just like you.
But as written, directed (by Eduardo Machado), and acted, Domitrovich’s characters resemble no human being who’s ever walked among us everyday plebeians. They’re blessed with incomparable style, withering emotional awareness, and a razor-honed conversation arsenal that never cuts more than skin deep. They are a playwright’s dream, the flawless illusion of an elevated reality that doesn’t need to be reality to be real. But when an author traps them in a vague, impenetrable lampoon of the art world that couldn’t be translated by the staunchest devotee of the Times’ Thursday Styles section, the work is mostly for naught.
And naught is the ultimate effect of the two hours of blistering whining effected by the five people at the play’s center. Most of it emanates from Owen (Will Janowitz), a visual artist recovering from a disastrous debut and whose life is rapidly spiraling into a black hole of disappointment and drugs. So blocked is he, he doesn’t believe he can complete his mammoth assignment for the coming-out Fashion Week extravaganza of designer Max (Tuomas Hiltunen); even though he’s sleeping with Max’s muse Bella (Nicole LaLiberte), and fending off the advances of Max’s publicist (and Bella’s sister) Maggie (Jessica Kaye) toward him and those of celebrity DJ Trevor (Asher Grodman) toward Bella.
Laughs don’t come more readily than sense, what few there are coming only from the tut-tutting title characters who appear in several video scenes to critique the critiques of Owen’s work and ensure their own seat at the head of the culture table. (It’s not especially trenchant satire, but throw enough darts and you’ll hit something, even if you never draw any blood.) With her scenic and lighting designs, Maruti Evans gives the stage an appropriate nightclub chic look, as if suggesting that’s where today’s superstars are truly born.
LaLiberte’s has the untamably flawless hair of a supermodel, flame red from root to tip, but possesses no inner fire to match - she’s far too convincing as a perpetually unaware celebutante. Janowitz is an impenetrable picture of clueless self-absorption, more moody college student than smoldering genius. Hiltunen and Grodman overreach as two different sides of the same sexually insatiable coin, and the searingly sexy Kaye makes the cagey Maggie insupportably stupid, reciting her lines with all the conviction of memorizing a Lord and Taylor shopping list.
I take that back - none of these characters would dare to be seen anywhere quite that gauche. They need the most, and the best, they can possibly get. Because they’re rich, they don’t typically have trouble – unless they create it for themselves. If seeing these people screw up their perfect lives and then toil to get them back to perfection is your idea of a good time, Artfuckers is the show for you. Otherwise, the only ones likely to benefit from it are those who are too important to go to the theatre in the first place.