Thoughts & Musings

2nd Story’s ‘Venus’ dark and delicious

From the explosion of summer theater one show stands out, and that's 2nd Story Theatre's sizzling production of 'Venus in Fur.'

by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
  • 8th June 20158/06/15
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From the explosion of summer theater one show stands out, and that’s 2nd Story Theatre’s sizzling production of “Venus in Fur,” David Ives’ hot new play about a steamy relationship between a theater director and very scary woman who shows up for an audition.

The writing is sharp, slipping in and out of theater and real life, and the very talented Lara Hakeem simply blows the doors off the theater as the mysterious dominatrix, Vanda.

This is one of a pair of two-person plays out there right now, the other being “Rounding Third” at Ocean State Theatre, which is all about the travails of two very different Little League coaches. But Ives is delving much deeper than batting averages.

Thomas, played by a demure Richard Derry, is looking for an actress for his adaptation of a sadomasochistic novel. He’s about to head home to his insecure fiancee when in strolls Hakeem’s Vanda. She’s not down on the schedule, not expected, but she seems to know her way around Thomas’ kinky script.

Thomas, who is due home, agrees to let Vanda read the first few pages, just to be a nice guy. But as the rehearsal unfolds, the two get deeper and deeper into this play about an S&M relationship.

At points they are in character, reading the script, and then they re-emerge as themselves, until Vanda announces, “I don’t think we’re talking about the play any more.”

Hakeem owns this show from her dazzling and very obscene entrance. And then she just lets loose, bouncing from supportive collaborator to menacing adversary all in the same breath. She’s not easy to pin down. Maybe she’s got the hots for Thomas, maybe she wants to tie him up and walk away.

By contrast, Derry seems a little flat. But that’s no doubt the way director Ed Shea saw this man who is under the thumb of his fiancee and hardly a match for Hakeem’s Vanda.

Set designer Max Ponticelli keeps things simple, creating a rehearsal studio with a desk, a couple of chairs and bits of paper strewn about the floor. But it works, because it doesn’t take away from Ives’ brilliant script.

While most of this one-act play takes the form of a cat-and-mouse game, there is no question in the end who is setting the trap and who gets caught.

Perhaps “Venus in Fur” is not your typical summer fare. As Shea said before the start of the show, “This is not your grandmother’s summer stock.”

But it’s such a stunning piece of writing, and Hakeem is so terrific, you don’t want to miss it.

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