Review: Venus In Fur at PBTS

Players By The SeaPlayers by the Sea opened David Ives‘ provocative and risqué “Venus in Fur” on June 6, 2014. The drama is an adaption by Ives of the 1870 novella by Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch entitled “Venus im Pelz“. The play opened in 2010 Off Broadway, and transferred to Broadway in 2011 where it became a hit. The play received a Tony nomination for Best Play, actress Nina Arianda received a Tony Award for Best Actress.

Playwright David Ives is no stranger to North Florida audiences. His “All in the Timing” has had several productions, and Theatre Jacksonville performed his adapted version of Mark Twain’s “Is He Dead?” in 2012. Ives also co-authored the book for the musical “White Christmas,” which has had several successful productions in this area.

“Venus in Fur” takes place in a small, quite modest New York rehearsal space created by Production Manager and Set Designer Ron Shreve. Furnishings are limited to a writing table, a couple of chairs, and a chaise lounge. The evocative lighting is changed by the leading lady from time to time to reflect varying moods in the play. On this dark, dreary urban night, heavy rain and lighting are visible through a small high-set window. The light design by Jim Wiggins adds much to the atmosphere and suspense of the show.

THEATRE_Venus-6806Playwright Thomas (Carl Vorwerk) wants to produce and direct a two-person script he has written based on Sacher-Masoch‘s work. He has spent the entire day holding auditions as he tries to find a leading lady, and he has seen thirty-five candidates, all remarkably untalented and unqualified.

He calls his fiancée Staci to tell her he is on his way home, when a breathless 30ish appearing woman barges through the door wanting to audition. Thomas refuses, he’s tired and it’s late, but the brassy and sassy Vanda (Amanda Morales) rejects his refusal. She pleads, begs, cajoles, and demands: he must allow her to read at least part of the script. He finally capitulates and finds himself reading the role of the male lead.

THEATRE_Venus-6836-2The script concerns an European nobleman who is seeking a mistress who will accept him as an unworthy slave and a countess who is willing to fulfill his desires for degradation at her hands. They experiment with the scenes and discuss their motivations for their choices. In this play within a play, they move at times between past and present and alternate male and female roles. In a spellbinding change, Vanda becomes a dominatrix while Thomas becomes abjectly submissive. The dialogue is fast-paced, and the acting by Ms. Morales and Mr. Vorwerk is superb.

Vanda has brought clothing and some props for the audition, and the costume designs by Ron Shreve reflect bondage fantasies, including a corset, a black leather skirt, a studded dog collar, and very long black boots with very high heels.

The production was directed by Daniel Austin, making his directorial debut in North Florida. Austin is already well known as an excellent actor and now displays exceptional instincts as a director in what had to be an extremely challenging play for all concerned. A work based on erotic fiction, it has its share of language and adult themes, including the exploration of issues of power, but has much humor as well.

“Venus in Fur” is a thought-provoking piece that requires audience to pay attention. Players makes it easy, with an insightful Director’s Note by Mr. Austin added to the program. In addition, Holly Gutshall, Players resident dramaturge, provides some well-written comments on Sacher-Masoch and his work.

This show will run through June 21,2014 in the Grace Darling Studio Theatre. Call 904-249-0289 for information and reservations.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.