Madalyn McKay, Marnie Schulenburg, Aly Wirth, and Shelly Feldman in a scene from Anais Nin Goes to Hell | Erica Parise
Description: Imagine an island in hell where Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, and Queen Victoria...wait for their men and what happens when women's lib icon and erotica writer, Anaïs Nin arrives to turn their afterlife upside down.
First Produced: 2008
Date Added: 4/24/2012
Content Advisory: contains strong language and sexual content.
Folklore and Legends ·
Gay and Lesbian ·
Death and the Afterlife ·
Gender and Sexuality ·
Gender Identity ·
Mostly Female Characters ·
Large Cast Size
2 Acts, 110 Minutes
6 Females, 2 Males
Anais Nin Goes to Hell is fully protected by copyright law and is subject to royalty. All inquiries concerning production, publication, reprinting or use of this play in any form should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Author:
In college I took a philosophy course administered by a member of the Christian Brothers. During one of his lectures, the professor stated that women were not good at philosophy because they paid too close attention to detail. Needless to say, I was shocked. I was raised by a single mother and surrounded by women my entire life whom I respect as being some of the most influential thinkers in my life. My mother gave me novels to read as a child and we would discuss their meaning in detail afterwards. This man’s teaching offended me to my core. So the next class I took in college was Women in Philosophy. Here I was introduced to Sappho, Heloise, Christine de Pizan, and other women who from ancient times asked the larger questions and added to philosophical debate. It was during this class when I was 20 years old that the beginnings of Anaïs Nin Goes to Hell germinated. I thought, there are so many philosophy plays and existential tales motivated by men that wouldn’t it be lovely to have more that are female-heavy? I wanted to not only open a discussion on women in philosophy but the archetypes of women and how they have evolved throughout time. Those thoughts led ultimately to the larger question of the play: Is it possible for us to continue to evolve after the successes that mark our lives? In the play, the famous women of the island are so entrenched in their archetypes and past glories that these achievements have stunted their growth. And a lovely lady from more contemporary times comes to give her perspective to help celebrate the continually shifting definitions of what it means to be a woman.
When I submit Anaïs Nin Goes to Hell to blind competitions (competitions where the playwright’s name is not on the script) the judges have later told me they assumed I was a woman. And others have asked what made a man write a play of this nature; entrenched with feminism. All I can say is, it came from love. I love to write for women. I like female characters who are strong, who make mistakes as largely as they make progress. I finally wrote this piece in my late twenties, after much gestation, thought, and research. The piece has had many readings and one lovely production. I must thank all of the wonderful women who have ever read the text. And in particular I would like to thank the original director for the FringeNYC production, Cristina Alicea, for her insight, voice, and care with this play. And I’d like to thank my mother for raising a son who knows how to see beyond the limitations of others. Cleopatra would be proud of you mom!
The use of Karen Carpenter music is intended as respectful parody, and is a feminist critique of the content within the songs she chose to sing. In no way is this a critique of her personal life. As she is an offstage character in the piece, the songs must be her singing. I have given suggestions as to what may be used, but feel free to use others at the director’s discretion. Production companies are responsible for obtaining rights for any music used in the show.
Antony and Bosie may be played by the same actor, if the performer can make such a transformation.
In the original NYC Fringe production there was no water. In the opening scene, Andromeda tried to kill herself by putting a pillow over her face to cause suffocation. This worked perfectly.
It is the playwright’s preference that Cleopatra be played by a woman of darker complexion.
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Original Production Information
Anaïs Nin Goes to Hell was originally produced by MTWorks as part of the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival at the Connelly Theater with the following cast and credits:
Andromeda: Marnie Schulenburg
Heloise: Ally Wirth
Joan: Colleen Piquette
Cleopatra: Kristina Kohl
Victoria: Madalyn McKay
Anaïs Nin: Shelly Feldman
Bosie: Jeremy King
Director: Cristina Alicea
Stage Manager: Stuart Shefter
Set Design: Stephanie Tucci
Costume Design: David Withrow
Lighting Design: Daniel Gallagher
Imagine an island off the coast of Hades where five women from different historical times are stranded waiting for their men to come and save them. They are Cleopatra, Queen Victoria, Joan of Arc, Andromeda, and Heloise (of Abelard and Heloise). The women cannot leave the island because there is a giant Hydra circling it. The Hydra has eaten one of the women who had tried to get away. Then add into the mix 20th century feminist and erotica writer Anais Nin and you have the premise of Anais Nin Goes to Hell.
The island is "ruled" by Queen Victoria, who claimed the island in the name of England, and she is assisted by sword-wielding Joan of Arc. Things get shaken up a bit when Anais Nin comes to the island. Anais tries to show the women that they have no need for men. Some realize she is right and are changed by their interactions with her. Then Cleopatra, who boasts that she has the power to bring any man to the island, delivers—and Lord Alfred Douglas swims ashore. He wasn't exactly the man the women had hoped for.
This production has a lot going for it. I enjoyed the way that the characters interacted with one another, especially Andromeda and Heloise. I was also amused by the interactions and budding friendship of Queen Victoria and Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas. It also has a great premise and a very enjoyable musical interlude.
The cast does a great job bringing to life these out-of-place characters. Shelly Feldman is quite convincing as Anais Nin and gives a very thoughtful performance. Madalyn McKay is hysterical as Queen Victoria. Jeremy King is delightful as the foppish "Bosie." Marnie Schulenburg is lovely, capturing the beauty and innocence of Andromeda. Aly Wirth gives a great performance as Heloise, and seemed to be an audience favorite.
The sparse sets by Stephanie Tucci give the proper feel of some type of limbo-like place. David "DW" Withrow did a fantastic job with costumes, especially since every character is for the most part from a different time period.
David Stallings has written an oftentimes very funny script. It's nice to see a play that relies on strong women. The relationships he created for the characters are extremely interesting. There were moments however that at times seemed a bit repetitive. Cristina Alicea did an admirable job directing this piece and leading a very talented group of actors.
reviewed at the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival
Anais Nin Goes to Hell
ANDROMEDA: You lied! You lied to me again! Why?
HELOISE: I have nothing else to do.
ANDROMEDA: It makes you laugh?
ANDROMEDA: It makes you laugh to hurt me?
ANDROMEDA: I want to go to sleep.
A small light begins to shine on them from off stage.
HELOISE: So do I.
ANDROMEDA: Will they ever come?
The light is getting brighter. Neither woman notices it.
HELOISE: I used to believe they would. He would at least. Mine would come. And then I thought...no. And now I have no thoughts.
ANDROMEDA: You have thoughts Heloise. You’re always thinking. Tell me a story.
HELOISE: You know everything about me.
ANDROMEDA: But I don’t remember. Tell me about yours. Your man.
Andromeda crawls to Heloise and puts her head on her lap. The light gets more intense.
HELOISE: He was a philosopher. He was a great teacher. He was my lover.
ANDROMEDA: What was his name?
ANDROMEDA: Yes. And was he beautiful?
HELOISE: No. He was ugly. He thought I was beautiful.
ANDROMEDA: Yes. And when did you first see him?
HELOISE: I first saw him in the study at my uncle’s house...and although we had never met before, he had spied me at the market and at church. He had been lecturing on the Holy Trinity when a reflection of light blinded his eyes; he turned and saw me. He said he had immediately fallen in love. I was beautiful then. I had long, dense hair–golden. The nuns made me shave it off when I joined the order. I used to wear jewels in my hair, that’s what caught his eye, the jewels in my hair.
ANDROMEDA: And what happened?
The light has now reached a blinding intensity.
HELOISE: Abelard approached my uncle and offered his services to tutor me. He would teach the tenets of the Holy trinity while outlining the curve of my lips with his finger. I traced the contours of my breasts while reciting the Lords Prayer. We read the letters of Paul completely naked and quoted Revelations while fornicating. Soon, God and sex were combined in Abelard—and I could not pray without becoming wet. My uncle had never let me meet men before—Abelard was my savior.