“Venus in Fur” is a bold, riveting exploration of more than just sexuality—it’s about the exchanges of power between people and the lies we tell ourselves and others. It’s about stripping the masks away; there may be acceptance or not, but there is truth.
This is an absolute gem of a production in an intriguing, more than intimate, space. Go see it. Leave the kids at home. Then look at each other and wonder.
The hook is that it is a play within a play. Thomas Novachek is an adaptor (he makes that point very clear—he adapted the material, it’s not autobiographical nor did he write it) of a book written by an Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, which just happens to be the novel that inspired the term “masochism”. Novachek is on the telephone complaining to his fiancée that he has seen over 30 inadequate actresses who auditioned for the lead character, Wanda von Dunayev. While he’s on the phone, an actress who is very late, Vanda Jordan bursts in. She’s vulgar, loquacious and seems uneducated. She more or less browbeats him into letting her audition for the part, with the director/writer reading the part of the other character, Severin von Kushemski. Vanda’s switch into the manipulative, sexual, educated and well-brought-up. As the reading continues, the lines between the 18th-century characters of the novel and their own selves are nearly completely erased.
While on the surface this play may seem titillating, it is deadly serious. And perhaps a little frightening, because how well does anybody actually know themselves? The two actors, Ari Post as Thomas Novachek and Andra Whitt as Vanda Jordan give two of the best performances I have seen all year. They are, simply put, mesmerizing. And brave—at some points in the action there is nothing more than a hands-span separating them from the audience. Whitt, in particular, brings an underlying menace to the dual role of the actor auditioning/Wanda that is intense and dark and delicious. Post is her equal because as the masks come off, you can see desires he has never acknowledged rising to the surface and his soul-deep struggle to even realize these truths.
The sound and lighting designer, Chip Gertzog, is so good that when the actors’ phones ring, most of the audience turned and glared at some poor audience member who looked completely flummoxed and even checked his phone to make sure it was off. Jimmy Gertzog, the director, takes the action to an almost unbearable edge, but never slips over into kitsch or camp or pulls back prematurely. It is a masterful job.
The script by David Ives is witty and urbane and sophisticated and raw at times. He plumbs depths that would have been banned in Boston even 40 years ago but does so in a way that leaves the audience with an inkling of the complexity of human desires and the lengths we go to maintain social norms. And he also leaves us somewhat in awe of those who take that plunge.
This is an absolute gem of a production in an intriguing, more-than-intimate, space. Go see it. Leave the kids at home. Then look at each other and wonder.
Advisory: Adult language and themes; not suitable for children.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
“Venus in Fur” at Providence Players of Fairfax in partnership with the Italian Café pop-up production, Falls Church, VA, through February 8, 2020. For more information, please click here.