Thoughts & Musings

BWW Reviews: VENUS IN FUR at 2nd Story Theatre

Hakeem is at once hilarious and sexy.

by Larry O'Brien,
  • 16th June 201516/06/15
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2nd Story Theater is currently offering an excellent production of VENUS IN FUR by David Ives in its intimate, seventy seat Downstage. Let’s not bury the lead: the play itself, the cast, the set, the lighting, the costumes and the props are all terrific, but what really makes this work is an outstanding performance by Lara Hakeem. This is the second time I have seen Ms Hakeem perform at 2nd Story (my loss – she’s been there since the theater opened in 2001), and ass good as she was in AND MISS REARDON DRINKS A LITTLE, she is even better here. Hakeem is at once hilarious and sexy as her character, Vanda – an auditioning actress, slowly but surely turns the table on her putative writer/director, Thomas, played by Richard Derry. He is miserable to her at first, as she seems all wrong for the part, but she understands: “You’re a writer and director; it’s your job to torture actors.” Once she comes in from the rain in a trench coat, she spends the evening in tight leather undergarments, and Derry’s Thomas crumples before the charms of Hakeem’s Vanda. A newcomer to 2nd Story, Derry is also very good, particularly showing his chops in the brief time he and Hakeem switch roles and he plays Vanda.

The play itself is very subtly layered. VENUS IN FUR is a play within a play; it’s confusing because both plays are entitled VENUS IN FUR. When it begins in Max Ponticelli’s simple set – a few folding chairs, a couple of folding tables – it seems we are in for another play about theater; the travails and trials of actors. Next it seems to become magical realism: How does she know all the lines in this play? Where did she come from? Has Thomas conjured up the genuine Venus? Next it seems Thomas has been set up by his fiancĂ©e, who has sent Vanda/Venus to test him. What finally emerges is a sexually charged struggle for domination, both sexually and politically.

If Ponticelli’s set is simple, what he does with lighting is inspired. Occasional lightning flashes through a rain soaked skylight (it was indeed a “dark and stormy night.”). During the course of Vanda’s audition, which is to say the play, the characters do what lighting designers do: play with light to create different effects, enhance meaning and advance the story. It was eye opening.

As artistic director and director of this piece, Ed Shea made a many of the choices which brought VENUS IN FUR to life. Thank him if you see him.

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