Review by Greg Haymes
“Venus in Fur” is funny, sexy and whip-smart.
According to the October issue of American Theater magazine, David Ives’ “Venus in Fur” will be the most-performed play in American regional theaters in the 2013-14 season, with 22 productions across the country, more than any other play. And on the face of it, it’s easy to see why – economics. It requires only two actors and one simple stage set, a combination that’s music to the ears of any budget-conscious theater. And let’s face it, these days any theater company – big or small – is budget-conscious.
But on the other hand, those two actors have to be something truly extraordinary in order to navigate the complex, constantly shifting character transformations that the play demands. And they’ve got to command the audience’s attention by themselves for an hour and 45 minutes.
Fortunately, at Albany’s Capital Repertory Theatre director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill has found a pair of mesmerizing winners in blond bombshell Jenny Strassburg (making her Cap Rep debut) and veteran Timothy Deenihan (most recently seen on the Cap Rep stage in “Race”). Perfectly matched, they thrust and parry, using Ives’ words like rapiers in an exhilarating cat-and-mouse game.
The play opens with a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning, as actress Vanda Jordan (Strassberg) with a braying Bronx accent, tumbles into the generic room where playwright-director Thomas Novachek (Deenihan) is frustrated after a day of auditions in which he’s failed to find an appropriate actress for the female lead for his play, an adaption of an 1870 novel by Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (from whom we have derived the word “masochism”).
Thomas knows that Vanda is all wrong for the part and dismisses her without a second thought. Vanda knows that she’s hours late and probably has no chance for the role, but she proceeds to charm, cajole and literally force Thomas to give her an opportunity to audition.
Smartly and swiftly, the play evolves from there, slipping in and out of the play-within-a-play and producing laugh-out-loud results with a deeper, dark undercurrent, as it shifts from engaging comedy to gripping drama to compelling thriller.
The role of Vanda requires a bold, bravura performance, and Strassburg delivers the goods, strutting about the stage in various states of leather and lingerie. The role of Thomas is no less demanding, as Deenihan is an actor portraying a playwright-director who is playing a role in his play. If it all sounds so confusing, not to worry. In the hands of these two sharp actors and Mancinelli-Cahill’s smart, sure-handed direction, the results are both dizzying and delicious.
“Basically it’s S&M porn,” Vanda says, assessing Thomas’ script.
Thomas responds with disdain, “‘Venus in Fur’ is a great love story.”
Stop. You’re both right. And it’s an adventurous, provocative ride…