Over the past few years, Playwright David Ives has written or adapted a number of plays that have been well received both in DC and New York including New Jerusalem: the Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza, Is He Dead?, White Christmas, and The Liar (a recent Helen Hayes Award winner from Shakespeare Theater Company). Ives’ play, Venus in Fur, now in performances at The Studio Theatre, is a fantastic addition to his impressive body of work. The play was inspired by the 1870 novella of the same name by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (famous, or I should I say infamous, for inspiring the word ‘masochism.’ The novella features a gentleman named Severin who after being beaten as a boy by his alluring aunt, develops a fetish for dominant women, and in particular, the lovely Vanda. Severin submits himself as her slave with tragic results.
Venus in Fur is set in current day New York City. Thomas, a playwright and director, is casting his new play, an adaptation of the scandalous Sacher-Masoch novella. Thomas is having trouble finding the perfect “Vanda” for the play, and as he is about to head home – a woman, oddly also named Vanda – comes into his office out of thunderstorm to audition for the coveted role.
Just as Thomas is skeptical of the acting talents of the auditioning Vanda, the audience may at first question the merits of Ives’ play at first, but within no time, you will be cast under both Vanda and Ives’ spell. The dialogue is riveting, witty and eloquent. Ives cleverly exposes the audition process as a disguised form of sado-masochism, but not necessarily a one-directional form. Thomas and Vanda explore the boundaries of masochism as they concurrently run lines from Thomas’ play while uncovering some of each other’s deeply intimate secrets. There are a lot of fun twists and turns along the way and the play has an appropriately epic climax. What is most fascinating about the play is how power shifts back and forth between Thomas and Vanda during the audition process – in a manner that parallels the action in the play within the play that they are rehearsing. Masochism is a multifaceted fetish indeed.
As Thomas and the troubled Severin, Christian Conn (also winning in the aforementioned The Liar) is very convincing as both a tyrannical playwright/director and a quivering masochist, while Erica Sullivan charmingly excels as the seemingly awkward and tacky Vanda who transforms into a demure yet forceful goddess during the audition process. Just try not to fall in love with her character.
In addition to the stellar performances, the solid production efficiently directed by David Muse offers an effective set by Blythe Quinlan featuring Thomas’ office (complete with casting couch) and Jennifer Moeller’s costumes, especially those used by Vanda for the play within the play, are delightful, kinky and sometimes comical.
Venus in Fur created somewhat of a sensation off-Broadway last year and now audiences in the Washington/Maryland/Virginia area get to see why. I highly recommend that you submit yourself to this intelligent, fascinating and appropriately titillating play.
Venus in Fur plays through July 3rd at The Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street, NW, in Washington DC. For tickets call (202) 332-3300, or purchase them online Running time is about 95 minutes with no intermission.
This production contains mature subject matter. Appropriate for ages 16 and up.