Kathleen Chalfant and Tony Award-winner Nina Arianda talk about their roles in Manhattan Theatre Club’s world premiere of “Tales from Red Vienna.” Arianda plays Heléna, a woman who has lost her husband in World War I, and with him, her financial security. Struggling to maintain her way of life, she reluctantly turns to the oldest profession. “Tales from Red Vienna” is playing at MTC at New York City Center – Stage I.
To play Heléna, Arianda did some research into the benefits war widows got in Austria—they received half whatever their husband’s salary was if he was killed in action. But if he deserted or broke military rules, their widows got nothing. The aftermath of losing the war brought widespread hardship across Austria, and there were a lot of war widows who had to figure out how to make ends meet. “The play takes place 18 months after the end of the war, and that’s about the time the money runs out,” Chalfant said. “And these women, upper middle class women particularly, had no other resources.”
Arianda compared this role to her role in “Venus in Fur,” which she won a Tony Award for. Sex is at the center of both plays, but Arianda said, “It’s the not doing in Venus that was erotic. And here it’s the giving into passion and giving into owning her body in a different way.”
Leonard Lopate pointed out that the play takes a lot of twists and turns, which he didn't want to give away during the interview. Chalfant added, “It’s a wonderfully old fashioned play in that way. And people seem to have fun. People honestly say they don’t know what’s coming next.”