Sultry Blonde Nina Arianda Wasn't Born Yesterday
By Ellis Nassour
Few theatrical performances the last couple of years generated the kind of buzz that accompanied Nina Arianda's performance March, 2010, as Vanda, the very extroverted but seemingly flighty actress arriving past late to audition as a dominatrix, in Classic Stage Company's acclaimed production of David Ives' Venus in Fur. Now, in a season where there have been so many standout performances, Arianda is delivering one herself in her much-anticipated Bway debut as the very extroverted but seemingly scatter-brained mistress Billie Dawn in Tony-winner Doug Hughes (Doubt) revival of Garson Kanin's Born Yesterday. Seemingly, being the optium word.
The sex comedy, set against the political backdrop of the mid-40s, co-stars author [Real Men Don't Apologize] and Emmy nom Jim Belushi (TV's According to Jim) returning to the stage after a long absence [Conversations with My Father, Pirates of Penzance] and Tony winner Robert Sean Leonard [The Invention of Love, Long Day's Journey; TV's House].
The plot revolves around a conniving businessman, Belushi, out to "capitalize" on everything Washington has to offer, his blonde body-beautiful [with legs that should be insured] mistress and investigative reporter, Leonard, out to get a scoop. Turns out Billie's not-so-dumb and knows a good thing when she sees it [in Leonard].
Nina Arianda, receiving the sort of raves you wait a whole lifetime in theater for, grew up in a NJ Ukrainian family where she learned English watching Sesame Street taking children's theater classes at age four. She's come a long way, baby - recently graduating from NYU's graduate acting program. Except for a brief period where she wanted to be an opera conductor, acting has been her goal. Still, she had only a few professional stage credits when she auditioned for Hughes.
She feels very well-suited to the role of the tempestuous Dawn, "Billie's another character you should never underestimate. I fell in love with her from the get-go. Since I can't escape myself, there's a lot of me in her. However, onstage, parts of me are more amplified. Things seemed to be going along an expected path, then boom, they're off in another direction. That makes the role even moret fascinating."
For Venus, Arianda read for director Walter Bobbie and playwright Ives only once, rather late in the audition process - sort of true to the play's plot. "Five hours later, I got a call from my agent!" she recalls. "Working with Walter and David was a revelation."
She feels quite blessed that lightning is striking twice. "Like Walter, Doug's incredibly intuitive. It's not always 'Do this, do that,' but rather a push this way or that way. There is always a jolt of surprise when you find great chemistry. Working with Jim and Sean has been a great on-stage collaboration because there's lots of chemistry's there."
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