Blurred Lines: Venus in Fur at the South Coast Rep

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What a smart play. Seriously smart.

That’s the first thing I thought as I left the Julianne Argyros Theater on Sunday night. Smartly written, smartly performed and so ingenious I can’t stop thinking about it.

Not heady-smart, and certainly not academia-smart. But Venus In Fur by David Ives is sociologically-smart, witty, engaging and made me think hard about women and men and the idea of who’s in charge. Should there be someone in charge? It made me think about my own relationship and ask myself the hard question, in a metaphorical sense, am I a Vanda? Do I want to be in control?

I’m not sure. Maybe. Probably not.

It is interesting that Ives’ Venus in Fur it is loosely based on a nineteenth century German erotica novel by the same name, but all the sex and sexual tension between Vanda and Thomas amounts to words, looks and emotion. There is no nudity. There is no overt sexual act the play at all, but the chemistry between the actors is as electric (almost severely so) as the chemistry between the Vanda and Severin and Vanda and Thomas.

But the blurred lines. Oh the blurred lines! And I’m not talking about a certain pop song that cost a man his marriage.  I’m talking about the play within the play, the roles within roles. I’m talking about the fact that even though the source material (the German novel) is in many ways the precursor to a modern conversation about more fringe sexual desires, Ives’ play itself, I thought, was more about the blurred lines between what we want in a relationship, what we say we want and then how we act.

I will give no spoilers (because you MUST see this without knowing the ending) but for example, Thomas’s Vanda wants to be “directed” but in the end she wants to “direct.” Thomas wants to dominate but perhaps realizes (or confesses) that that’s not exactly what he wants.

Who wins? I won’t tell you.

But isn’t that what every relationship is on some level? A play at power? Maybe you say that yours isn’t. But it just might be.

I will say that for a play with only two actors in it, I realized by the middle that these two actors (only) must carry the weight of the emotion, hold that emotional and sexual tension tightly and bring the audience to “release,” if you will, all by themselves. Jaimi Paige, as Vanda, and Graham Hamilton, as Thomas, do an amazing job during an intermissionless performance, taking us with them every step of the way. For ninety minutes they build and build and then, and as only two actors like Hamilton and Paige can do, bring the play to its proper resolution.

Venus in Fur is smart, witty and imaginative. Don’t miss out on this amazing performance.

Venus in Fur, directed by Casey Stangl, is at the South Coast Repertory on the Julianne Arygros Stage until October 26. You can buy tickets here. Because of the subject matter, this play is for adult audiences only.

All photos courtesy of South Coast Repertory.

To view their 2014/2015 season click here.

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