New Edgecliff Theatre’s Thought-provoking “Venus in Fur” Titillates and Tantalizes
Posted On March 5, 2018
Review by Hannah Gregory of Venus in Fur: New Edgecliff Theatre
New Edgecliff sets its production of Venus in Fur in the intimate Hoffner Lodge on Northside’s Hamilton Avenue. An electrically charged cerebral piece by David Ives, the play is served well by this space: a large room with a stairway leading to a church-like balcony. Half of the floor-space is for seating, while the other half serves as the stage; and one of my only complaints is that the layout lends itself to obstructed views.
Venus in Fur opens with Thomas (played by Brandon Burton), a playwright/director wrapping up a day of tawdry auditions for his play Venus in Fur, detailing female actresses’ stupidity and their lack of femininity, cluing the audience in from the very beginning that Thomas thinks he knows women better than they know themselves. Enter Vanda. A stark contrast to Thomas’ exhaustion, Vanda (played by Tess Talbot) is vivacious and energetic, frenetically moving about the space. Though late for her audition, she fights for the chance to read for Thomas. While Vanda initially feigns ignorance to the play’s themes and derivatives, she quickly shows that she is more knowledgeable than she appears. She claims Thomas’ play and its original source, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, is “basically…S&M and porn.” Thomas counters, calling it “a great love story.” Thus begins our conflict.
Vanda ends up reading the script late into the night with Thomas and even challenging the script and writing choices. As Vanda proves herself to be a talented, albeit mysterious actress, the audition continues with the pair reading nearly the entire script and then derailing into improv. We start to get the sense that Vanda already knew what she was doing before she walked in the door. The night continues, with each character giving the other notes and making new discoveries about the characters in Thomas’ play. Many sequences involve lines repetition, which may seem redundant; but the importance is what is happening between these lines–the uncovering of power.
As Kushemski, Thomas asserts,“Every woman wants to be worshipped.” The theme of the all-knowing man rears its ugly head again as we see a man (Thomas) writing a male character (Kushemski) telling a woman what she wants. Vanda wields her power, and fiction and reality begin to blur when Vanda becomes the mythical Venus. This sequence, involving layered character work and a German dialect, shows off Talbot’s malleability and acting chops. Vanda calls out Thomas’ sexist portrayal of women time and time again, alluding to the fact that S&M is only such when both players are consensual. Thomas’ Vanda is blamed and humiliated at the end of his play, which Vanda the actress will not stand for.
During the climax of the play, Vanda becomes more enigmatic and otherworldly than ever. What is her motive, and where did she come from? She turns the play on its axis, moving to portray Kushemski, and once again taking on the dominating role. The play’s ending takes a turn into a mystic realm, so that we never really learn who Vanda is or what she desires; but that’s not really the point of the play anyway. It is a game of cat and mouse, a theatrical literary analysis, and an exploration of gender roles that’s long overdue.
Burton and Talbot do an excellent job with a script that, under poor direction, could have been confusing and over the top. The visual cues of having scripts in hand or not keeps the audience rooted in clarity of whether we are seeing Vanda the actress and Thomas or Vanda the character and Kushemski. It only lets up during the last 5 minutes or so, when the play is left up to interpretation. Director Greg Proccacino’s use of space and vocal nuances are excellent and clear. Scenic and costume elements are simple but effective, serving a piece that’s main feature is its dizzying and dazzling dialogue. My advice? Drink a cup of coffee before you see this. You’ll want to pay attention to every word and exchange to keep up.
New Edgecliff’s Venus in Fur runs at the Hoffner Lodge through March 17. Treat yourself to this excellent piece of theatre, but leave the kids at home: this features sexual themes and drops the F-bomb a few times. Ready to get your tickets? Call 513-299-6638 or visit New Edgecliff Theatre – Your professional neighborhood theatre