In one of the most baffling transfers of recent memory, “Artfuckers,” by tyro scribe Michael Domitrovich, has been given a commercial Off Broadway run. When it played last year, this lament for pampered New Yorkers was at the Theater for the New City, which supports off-center artists trying to find a voice. In that context, much can be forgiven, but when producers slap on a flashy ad campaign and a $65 ticket, the play merits a dfferent level of scrutiny. And in this case, that exposes shallowness and petulance.
From the opening scene, when young artist Owen (Will Janowitz) tries to kill himself over a bad review, to the coda, when his friends complain that their rich parents ruined their lives, the production sincerely asks us to pity its thoughtless narcissists.
None of them, however, shows a flicker of self-awareness or even a sense of humor about their privileged lives. Instead, they have meltdowns about not getting enough PR for their fashion shows, and they call it romance when they manipulate each other into loveless sex.
Domitrovich’s dramatic structure only validates their behavior. For instance, there are scenes that simply show the kids at work. One segment is about a fashion designer (Tuomas Hiltunen) and his publicist (Jessica Kaye) deciding what kind of shoes his models should wear. That’s it: No personal relationships, no larger metaphor, just shoes. Even the makers of “Project Runway” know that pretty people making clothes aren’t interesting without some drama.
We’re also subjected throughout the play to the so-called artfuckers (Billy Hopkins and Carmelita Tropicana), hangers-on who are projected on massive screens as they mock Owen’s career. Usually, the beleaguered artist lies supine on the floor, bathed in half-light, while the meanies disrespect him.
The combined message of these tropes? These privileged young things are special, dammit, and, if we don’t agree, then we’re just tackily dressed philistines who hurt them.
Director Eduardo Machado — who recently wrote a book with Domitrovich — at least keeps the juvenilia energetic. Thesps are genuinely committed to their superficial concerns, and they move through scenes with polished speed. (Special sympathy goes to Nicole LaLiberte, who brings believable grit to her one-dimensional, frequently naked role as a heartless nymphette.)
Chris Kateff’s video design also has an alluring life, particularly when we see the silhouettes of frenzied dancers listening to club music. The slo-mo animation offsets the stuttering music to hypnotizing effect. One hopes that Domitrovich will bring similar layers to his next play, or at least realize that feeling like a victim isn’t the same as being one.