Venus in Fur
A must-see to start off the summer.by Will Demers, EDGE
One tired and desperate director, one harried actress. He’s looking for the perfect woman to play the lead in his adaptation of a famous work. She just wants the job because, well, she’s not working at the moment. The role is a tour-de-force for any actress, but this writer/director has a specific woman in mind. Can it be this actress, crude but willing to test her limits?
“Venus In Fur” is a play within a play written by David Ives and set in modern day New York City. Taking its cues from the classic novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, which, incidentally inspired the use of the term Masochism, this one-act play has been produced in several incarnations around New York since 2010. Controversial director Roman Polanski even directed a film version in French.
Thomas Novachek (Richard Derry) has adapted a version of “Venus” that he wishes also to direct. On a very stormy night in the city, he’s seen way too many actresses and just wants to go home and have dinner with his fiancee. Along comes Vanda (Lara Hakeem) a crass, fast talking actress who doesn’t seem to have made an appointment with Thomas. What she does seem is to have knowledge of the material, and this sets in motion an audition the kind of which none of us has seen before.
Vanda arrives, wet and swearing, with a bag of costumes in tow, and is willing to just start auditioning. Thomas is tired, and almost immediately realizes that she’s not right for the part. But he relents, and she launches into her rendition of Wanda von Dunayev.
Picking an outfit (she arrives in leather almost bondage gear, including a dog collar around her neck,) Vanda starts with the meeting of her character to the male protagonist, whom Thomas reads reluctantly. As they read, they both give each other stage directions, apparently to heighten Vanda’s chances and Thomas’ approval of her getting the role, respectively.
But as the “audition” progresses, the lines between staged drama and reality seem to blur. Their dialogue is equally the written page and words spoken to each other as strangers meeting for the first time. In the middle of their exchange, Thomas almost shuts down the exercise, shouting insults to the young woman indicating that she may just be a “stupid actress.” But Vanda has none of this, and brings forth a strong female presence for which Thomas may just not be ready.
Both actors are well cast; a one-act play with only two characters must have talented people and director Ed Shea has made some grand choices. Derry plays Thomas perfectly, his exhausted and picky author knows what he’s looking for in his lead actress but refuses to select anyone immediately. It truly comes a shock when he starts to yell at Hakeem, who is the perfect choice to play Vanda. She spews forth curse words, observations about her character and the written word with equal gusto; we absolutely believe she is a “typical” New York actress.
Utilizing a very simple set, and a smart choice of costumes by Ron Cesario, this 75-minute show is intelligent, funny, engaging and not for kids. But it is for those who enjoy literary references, leaving you to think about many things, including gender roles, past and present. A must-see to start off the summer.