'Venus in Fur' is more than sexy; stars Amanda Morales and Carl Vorwerk let loose in a comedy that challenges ideas of pleasure, pain and domination


Daniel Austin will always remember his first time, and stars Amanda Morales and Carl Vorwerk will remember what might be their last for a Northeast Florida audience. The result is a can't-miss production of Venus in Fur, continuing through June 21 at Players by the Sea.

The first-time director collaborates with two actors about to pursue theater in New York on this sexy and mentally stimulating comedy. This should keep Jacksonville Beach's reputation as one of the nation's sexiest suburbs in play for years to come.

For all that talk about sex, the 100-minute comedy without an intermission truly excels in posing questions on pleasure, pain, power, domination, subjugation and freedom while keeping the audience off-balance in this audition-within-a-play work by David Ives.

In Venus in Fur, Thomas (Vorwerk) is at his wit's end after a day of auditioning a "panoply of outcasts" for the starring role of Vanda. The director is ready to go home when in walks an actress of the same name  the mystery doesn't end there. The role of power between director and aspiring actress sets the stage, then the game of seduction ramps it up. Thomas reveals that Venus in Fur is based on a work by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch; masochism is named after Sacher-Masoch, so you know where this is going or you think you do.

First, Vanda (Morales) must convince Thomas to let her read for it: "Anyway, this play is sure amazing. I mean, the parts of it I read. Pretty wild stuff." She's really convincing.

Austin takes major risks with a minimalistic set, a production that's more conceptional than its New York counterpart but with more tongue (you'll have to watch).

All those risks, and it's Morales and Vorwerk who need to whip it good. And they do.

Morales, a graduate of Indiana University (Bloomington) who plans to leave for New York in early July, delivers a commanding performance as the woman on top for most of this romp. She'll remind some of Julia Louis-Dreyfus because of the physicality of the performance and her spot-on timing. Morales says those dark locks that also drew rave reviews will give way to the blonde she prefers after the production ends. Either way, she sizzles on the Studio Stage.

Vorwerk, a Douglas Anderson graduate planning to leave for New York in September, alternates between frazzled and intense, playing off and kneeling down to Morales' Vanda (and Vanda's Vanda). Vorwerk will certainly remind some of Austin himself, who recently acted in PBTS's Angels in America

Stage manager Luke Weidner, production manager and costume designer Ron Shreve, lighting designer Jim Wiggins and dramaturg Holly Gutshall complete the creative team. Artists Liz Gibson and Barbara Sarvis have works on display at PBTS through this production.

Ives' sexy comedy isn't for everyone. You'll note the strong language as soon as Vanda bursts in: "Am I too late? I'm too late! Fuck. Fuck!"

Yes, Austin reports one audience member did walk out, but he says two other couples reported canceling the rest of their plans afterward because they were inspired. To say he didn't mind any of those reactions would be putting it mildly.

Based on the subject and strong language, few will be ambivalent. The Studio Stage at Players by the Sea only fits 90, and these talented stars are on their way out of town. Either way, you've been warned.

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