by Jonathan Warman
In this smart, sexy show, Vanda is a young actress determined to land the lead in a new play based on Venus in Fur, a watershed 1870 novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch – a book so sexually ahead of its time that the word “masochism” was derived from the author’s name. Playwright David Ives shows us an extended, out-of-control audition in which Vanda and one Thomas, the play’s adapter/director, act out the major scenes in Venus in Fur. It’s all very “meta,” but in a good way.
Ives’s main thematic prey is the psycho-sexual depths explored in the novel – and how Sacher-Masoch, while ahead of his time, was still trapped in many ways by 19th Century prejudices about women. Over and above that, though, Ives also takes ample delight in pointing out the sadomasochistic truth about show business, and auditions in particular.
The play is especially delicious as a tour de force vehicle for two actors. As Vanda, Nina Arianda is wonderful, positively dazzling, legendary, a star in the making. And the adorable Hugh Dancy, wearing a very tight gray t-shirt, is a terrific foil as Thomas – it’s very hot indeed to see this hunk’s skin get flushed in some of the show’s more intense moments. He really gets into it, and it’s extremely sexy.
The show was such a success at its run at the non-profit Manhattan Theatre Club that it has now transferred to a commercial run at the Lyceum Theatre. The duo’s performances have deepened; they seem to share a deeper trust which drives them to take more, and more interesting, risks.
The show’s handful of failings include being too long (even at an hour and 45 minutes, there still is much that could be cut) and the occasional lapse into lazy pretension. That said, Ives has done a marvelous job of making sure that the play isn’t just red meat for actors, but a roller coaster of a good time for the audience. Venus in Fur is a hot plate of kinky fun.
For tickets, click here.
For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see his blog Drama Queen.