Venus in Fur | St. Louis Rep Studio Theatre

Venus in_Fur_logoThe play moves from funny to tense in seconds, and keeps the audience questioning the characters’ intentions, as well as their own.

 

 

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Featuring (L to R): Jay Stratton as Thomas and Sarah Nedwek as Vanda. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Director and actor—there is not a more fabled quid pro quo in entertainment. The director wields ultimate power, while the actors are simply putty to the touch. If a casting couch happens to be part of that journey from script to stage, well, that’s show biz. Venus in Fur starts with that premise, but by the end, it pushes the audience to consider the bonds that are the most intimate and personal to each of us.

The sparse stage features only a divan, a desk, and a few other cheap office fixtures. As the play opens, we meet Thomas, a playwright and director who has turned the Victorian-era novel Venus in Furs into a stage play. He has spent the day rehearsing actresses to play one of two main characters, Wanda (pronounced “Vanda”), and is about to leave when a rain-soaked actress enters the office. She is cursing and late for her appointment. Vanda (it is just a coincidence, she says) appears to be everything that Thomas does not see in his female lead: coarse, thoroughly unprepared or aware about the time in which the play is set, and not savvy enough to understand the deep emotions expressed in the play. Yet she prods him—nearly bullies him, actually—into reading a few pages of the script, and immediately this play embarks on an intense and challenging ride.

The original Venus in Furs, written in 1870 by Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch, was an erotic tale (based on Masoch’s own experiences) of Severin von Kushemski, who, in his obsession with a woman named Wanda von Dunayev, offers himself up as her slave. Wanda, at first repulsed by the idea of dominating and humiliating her lover, finds appeal in the arrangement and becomes adept in her role. The story, which Sacher-Masoch saw as one of great love, was seen by much of the public as little more than porn. The story took Germany by storm, leading Sacher-Masoch to the title of father of masochism.

The intermission-less play moves briskly, in part because David Ives’ script is quite rich. It moves from funny to tense in seconds, and keeps the audience questioning the characters’ intentions, as well as their own. Vanda/Wanda (played by Sarah Nedwek) has to first fool, then charm, and finally capture both Thomas and the audience. She does this effortlessly. Thomas (Jay Stratton), who certainly considers himself enlightened (he read the original Masoch book in German), conveys the thinly held power and authority that comes with the titles of playwright and director. Like the various costumes the characters put on to portray their characters, his intellectual protective layer is thin and easily exchanged. Vanda, who quickly proves to be so much more than “just a stupid actress,” as Thomas labels her during one of the play’s many seismic eruptions, takes control of Thomas and the play-within-a-play’s content. Vanda quickly proves that she understands this situation and elements much better than its playwright.

This is a play about power. The subject is as simple as the power between an actor and director, and as deep as that between one human being and another. As the characters point out, you are either an anvil or a hammer. But Venus in Fur explores not just roles, but why we inhabit those roles: Do we choose them or are they chosen for us? In Sacher-Masoch’s book and Thomas’s play, Severin loses his mistress because she wants to submit to another man—and thus, the master becomes the slave. While human nature is none to tidy for human loves and kinks, it is less so for Thomas and the actress.

Venus in Fur is a challenging play that rewards your submission. Go. Now. | Jim Dunn

Venus in Fur runs through March 24, 2013, at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Emerson Studio Theater, on the lower level of the building. Visit www.repstl.com for ticket and schedule information.

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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