Review: Chemistry elevates power of wills in 'Venus in Fur'

08:48 AM, May 20, 2013

Todd d'Amour and Veronica Russell in Venus in Fur at Geva. (JOHN BARROIS/Photo provided by Southern Rep)/


Written By Leah Stacy

If you go

What:
Venus in Fur.
When: Through June 2, with shows this week at 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Geva Theatre Nextstage, 75 Woodbury Blvd.
Cost: Tickets start at $27.
For tickets: (585) 232-4382 or gevatheatre.org.

The newest production at Geva Theatre Center is putting the “play” in “foreplay.”

That in itself should tell you the intended audience for David Ives’ Venus in Fur is most certainly the 18-and-over crowd. The Nextstage production is the story of an extraordinarily gifted young actress, Vanda, who’s auditioning for a playwright/director, Thomas, as he prepares to debut his newest work.

Interwoven throughout the script are excerpts from the fictional playwright’s script, which is based on an 1870 novel of the same name by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (the person who inspired the term “masochism”).

The set and lighting design by Matthew Reinert are unremarkable: a warehouse in New York City, poorly illuminated by fluorescent lights that show no mercy to the struggling actresses beneath their glare.

When Vanda Jordan (Veronica Russell) enters, soaking wet from the thunderstorms that light up the windows and boom through the walls, playwright Thomas (Todd d’Amour) has already auditioned 35 actresses for a role he’s idealized in his mind.

She sweeps in with a laundry list of excuses fit for a high school senior and proceeds to convince Thomas that he should let her audition. What ensues is a tense struggle for power that electrifies beyond the stage.

In relationships, “one must be the anvil and one the hammer,” Thomas tells Vanda.

D’Amour slips easily into the character of high-strung director Thomas. His ruggedly handsome good looks certainly don’t hurt, but it’s his effortless chemistry with Russell that seals the legitimacy of the role. Russell isn’t the 22-year-old actress described by Thomas’s character in the opening scene, but she plays the part astoundingly well as she vamps between coy and domineering. From her impossibly tiny waist to her impeccable posture and burnished locks, Russell exudes confidence and sensuality necessary for the role.

Costume designer Joan Long has mixed a bit of 40s pin-up with a nod to the 19th century novel. With her finger wave, scarlet lace corset and shoulder tattoo, Vanda looks like the centerfold from a World War II-era magazine for lonely soldiers.

The production runs 90 minutes without intermission. Russell and d’Amour are relentless in their pursuit of one another the entire time, and the stakes get higher with each scene they rehearse. But if the audience is waiting for a point to the show, a lesson or a grand finale, they will be disappointed.

We’re all easily extricable, but we’re not all easily extricable,” says Thomas.

That’s also the mysterious beauty of Venus in Fur: Its issues and characters are at once relatable and vague. The underlying currents in the show can be interpreted, as Vanda notes, in myriad “isms” — sexism, feminism, masochism, racism — and each audience member will come away with a different impression.

This is not a show for the whole family, but Venus in Fur is perfectly appropriate for a date night or girls’ night out material. Hats off to Geva for adding such a steamy, wildly daring play to the season.