"Venus in Fur" at Classic Stage Company, January 23, 2010
A tale of lust, domination and submission, based on a German novel from the late 1800s, David Ives has adapted Leopold von Sacher Masoch's Venus in Furs into a contemporary, clever, 90 minute two-hander. The theatricality is heightened as he juxtaposes the tale into the setting of a playwright conducting auditions for his own stage adaptation of the original text.
Frustrated by poor productions of earlier work, Thomas (Wes Bentley) is directing his new play himself. His "perfect" Wanda and she hasn't turned up yet at his auditions. He is about to give up for the day when Vanda (Nina Arianda) bursts into the room. She's late for her appointment (weather, trains, blah, blah) but wants to read even though Thomas didn't have her name on the list. She quizzes him on the finer points of the story, "It's really just porn, isn't it? I mean...really?" Exposition ensues and the games begin. Power flips back and forth as they read each character, and as director and actress work through the story.
Ms. Arianda takes the upper hand very quickly and doesn't let go, even until the confusing and slightly bizarre ending. It's a powerful performance and worth the price of admission. Mr. Bentley seems a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing, but manages a few nice moments. It pointed up, for me, the difference between acting for an audience vs. acting for a camera. There were moments when he seemed to be looking for the lens to register an internal moment. Nonetheless, he has matured nicely since his role as the quiet bad boy in "American Beauty" so many years ago. Being pretty can count for something from time to time.
Director Walter Bobbie shows a firm hand as he guides the cat and mouse games, each actor moving to and from each position. He keeps the tension high without losing the laughs.
Mr. Ives' adaptation starts with a great premise and builds beautifully, keeping the audience on edge. At the last minute, he suddenly loses focus and as a result, the audience. I have a vague idea of what I think he intended, but I'm still not really sure. With some proper attention to the last scene, this could be a pretty darn good play.
John Lee Beatty's sterile audition studio set makes a great canvas for Peter Kaczorowski's lighting.