Since Southern Rep was kind enough to host a “bloggers night” and comp me tickets for the preview performance of Venus in Fur (running through Jan 24th), I believe the quid pro quo is that I write about the show. Fair enough, here goes.
The two-character script is handled convincingly by Todd d’Amour as Thomas, a somewhat nebbishy playwright, and Veronica Russell as Vanda, the seemingly scatterbrained actress who shows up (late) for an audition. While the promo for the piece focuses on the titillating aspects of the show, it fair to say that the play is more about mind games than games of the bedroom. Not to say that the play isn’t sexy, but it’s not as risqué as you might think and it comic lines carry it further along than sexual tension. A little more energy on the whip-cracking end of things wouldn’t have hurt.
In the play, Thomas has written a theatrical adaptation of the 19th century novel Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose writings gave rise to the term “masochism.” Vanda shows up to audition, and when Thomas reluctantly allows her to read, she captivates him. The rest of the play explores the power exchange between the characters in the script within the play, and of Thomas and Vanda themselves.
Venus in Fur was written by David Ives, where it’s off-Broadway success in 2010 earned a full Broadway production in 2011 and a Tony nomination in 2012. It’s very clever and operates on several levels, there’s the play itself, the play within the play, the original novel and it’s author, commentary on the relationships between men and women (both Vanda and Thomas and Thomas and his off-stage fiancé), and a pointed look at the relationship between actor and director. Who is in control at any given time is often a slippery question, and what makes the play enjoyable.
I found the play very engaging while it was happening, though the ending didn’t work for me. While there are hints throughout that Vonda is not who she seems, the question of who she really is did not have a satisfactory answer as written by Ives. If you can tolerate that minor disappointment, the 90 minutes that precede it are a lot of fun.