(Top) Todd Peters (Bottom) Erika Latta
BOTTOM LINE: An incredible piece. I'm sorry it won't be open longer. Don't go if you don't like to think.
A few notes on this extraordinarily fascinating show: it helps to know the source material. Quartet v4.0 is based on the novel Quartet, written by the German playwright Heiner Müller in 1981, which is in turn based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. It is the story of the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, two rivals who use sex as a weapon to humiliate and degrade others, all the while enjoying their cruel games. Knowing the story beforehand will make an enormous leap in your understanding of this piece.
An hour long, the set (insane, beautiful, and frightening all at once) consists of an enormous plastic wrapped box, made of pipes, lights, plastic, and plexiglass, that juts out halfway into the house, so that the actors are mostly suspended over the audience seats. The actors are tethered to corners of the box (and to a life-support system of sorts, it seemed they were ill), and they strut, preen, taunt, and intrigue both each other and the audience as they each attempt to gain the upper hand. My seatmate remarked that the set reminded him very much of a laboratory and thus the actors were like specimens trapped together in a beaker or aquarium, and he is as right as rain. My guess is, he hit the show design concept entirely on the head. The two actors (or experimentees, if you will) swap genders, victories and barbs easily, playing horrible sexual and power games, each trying to win the upper hand and keep victory from the other.
As someone with no familiarity of the source material, I was nonetheless fascinated both by the florid and elevated language. I also won't pretend I understood everything, because I didn't, but I could follow the what seemed to be the main thread; the ever present battle between our animal natures and our veneer of society and religion. Sex does indeed trump all, ladies and gentlemen, and this adventurous piece proves that with some fairly graphic staging. To put it another way, I was glad I had no children with me.
If you've got time, (it's only until Feb 28th, hurry!), I heartily recommend this show for the thinkers and artists among us. If you call yourself one or both of those, try to get there.
(Quartet v4.0 plays at The Abrons Arts Center, located within the Henry Street Settlement at 466 Grand Street on the Lower East Side. Remaining shows are Saturday, Feb 27, at 8 pm, and Sunday, Feb 28, at 5 pm. Tickets are $15. To purchase tickets and for more info visit henrystreet.org.)