At the risk of sounding wildly unoriginal, Nina Arianda is the biggest, best star you never heard of. Her winning stretch began with last year’s “Venus in Fur,” a show she not only stole but roped up, whipped, and punished into total submission. It was, to put it lightly, euphoric. As an actress/dominatrix, Arianda was fun, fast, kooky, and theatrical as hell.
Now she’s starring on Broadway in “Born Yesterday,” a “Pygmalion” kind of power to the people hotel fable. Surprise surprise, she’s fantastic, but the show’s appeal also comes from the participatory pleasure you feel from “being at the beginning.” “Born Yesterday” is only my second Arianda outing, but already I can imagine myself, years from now, looking back with moist eyes at those first, exciting years in her career.
As for that “participatory pleasure,” there’s a kind of silly, self-congratulatory feeling in having your tastes ratified in the big time. You think, “I must really have an eye if I saw that talent from the beginning! Go me!” Ridiculous, but oh-so-human.
Or sometimes there can be a dark flipside: “I liked X before X was popular! Phooey on X’s acclaim!!” A kind of resentment fills the space where admiration once sat.
But there’s no resentment here—Arianda is the lady of the moment. She’s a bombastic explosion of presence, and you can’t help but breathlessly smile along when she grooves into her thing. Walter Bobbie (director of “Venus in Fur”) puts it best: “She has what I think is not only physical beauty, but she has the sexiest thing I think you can have, which is spontaneity… That’s a real star quality.” Here here!
1. Arianda is a 2009 grad of NYU’s oh-so-illustrious MFA acting program. Watch her perform a hilarious monologue from NYU’s website here.
2. How’s this for a seal of approval:
3. There are tiny snippets of Arianda’s “Venus in Fur” brilliance in this clip: