By David Ives
Directed by Joanie Schultz
At the Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Sexy, sensual, seductive play-within-a -play needs a more fearful edge
Filled with the sharp humor and satirical pokes at the business of theatre, David Ives’ version of the 1869 novella by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch – for whom “Masochism” was coined – Venus in Fur emerged.
Ives’ contemporary version finds a playwright/director, Thomas (Rufus Collins) exhausted after a day of auditions to find a leading lady for his stage play – Venus in Fur. Suddenly, a wildly frantic woman in a fur coat with a large bag bursts into the audition space. When Thomas informs her that the auditions are over and the reader has left, Vanda (Amanda Drinkall), won’t take ‘no’ for an answer and the games between the two begin.
Thomas is impressed by the hutzpah and manic energy of Vanda. He agrees to read with Vanda and soon he realizes that Vanda just may be the person he needs for the play. We see Thomas as this guarded professional writer/director who’ll not use sex to cast his show. Vanda combines her zaniness with a stage craft and acting skill perfect for the role in Thomas’ play.
The early scenes are filled with awkward humor, razor-sharp quips , and subtle sensuality. Vanda’s black leather dominatrix outfit suggests she is ready to do whatever it takes to get the role. Thomas resists her at first. But during this 95 minute one act, a semi-erotic power play emerges between the two. Once Vanda demonstrates her mastery of the part, Thomas’ knows he has found his Venus.
Much of the second part of Venus in Fur is a dance between the two for dominance as the play-within-a-play becomes a real life struggle for dominance. The mystery of who Vanda actually is slowly surfaces once Thomas (and us) see that she is more than a convincing actress
But, it is in the last quarter of this work that I had problems with. While Amanda Drinkall gave a ‘star-making’ performance wherein she demonstrated both her wacky comic side and her powerful dramatic chops, she was not allowed to go far enough (by director Joanie Schultz) to the sensual, sexy seductress side toward Thomas. The essential element in a dominatrix possesses is fear and it seemed that Thomas never really feared the consequences if he didn’t perform his slave ritual to Vanda’s expectations. Rufus Collins simply played being dominated too casual and timid. I expected more sexiness and more erotic scenes with nudity, perhaps? The masochism scenes were too tame and didn’t evoke enough fear and dramatic tension to scare us.
I’ll not spoil the ending but it would be more plausible if the earlier scenes were more erotic and dangerous. Amanda Drinkall’s impressive performance gave the show enough vigor to make Venus in Fur enjoyable.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 18, 2014
For more info checkout the Venus in Fur page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org, tickets $25 – $86, Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 7:30 pm, with Thursday matinees at 2 pm, running time is 95 minutes without intermission, through April 13, 2014