Zip up those thigh-high boots; you’re in for a sexy ride.
Arizona Theatre Company’s production of David Ives “Venus in Fur” is a romp through dominatrix land with loads of laughs, plenty of thought, and a whip-smart script. Director Shana Cooper has shaped a play that moves, provokes and illuminates.
It begins with an impressive lightning display outside the warehouse where Thomas has been auditioning actresses for a play he has written and will direct.
As he talks to his fiancé on the phone, he begins to pace, tear his hair and emote dramatically that no one — not a soul — has been right for the role of Vanda, a 19th-century genteel lady with quite a masochistic streak.
With a clap of thunder, an actress stumbles in, hours late, frustrated, frazzled, flighty. One look at her and Thomas knows she’s another one of those actresses who “can’t pronounce degradation without a tutor.”
But Vanda — coincidentally, she has the name of the character in Thomas’ play — won’t let him turn her away. She strips off her coat to reveal a black leather skirt short enough to provide a peek at the garters holding up her stockings. Thomas is even more convinced she isn’t right.
She begs, he relents: Only the first three pages, he insists. And something amazing happens: Present-day Vanda becomes 19th-century Vanda.
The play Thomas has written is an adaptation of the racy 1870 novel “Venus in Furs” by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch — the man who inspired the term masochism.
She’s got the character down pat. But she keeps breaking away from the script to ask questions, to point out that the book is porn no matter what Thomas says, and to ask a point of direction. Still, Thomas is captivated, titillated, seduced by her characterization.
Then she starts directing him. And easing oh-so-smoothly into the role of the dominatrix.
Ives — also inspired by the “Venus in Furs” novel — doesn’t take well to clichés. He teases with enough surprises, even suspense, that we are kept guessing. Ives’ love of the language, its rhythm and its poetry, are in full force here as he hands us a comedy that strokes the darker side of sexuality and demands we think about what power is, who has it, and what’s to be done with it.
The script is funny, smart, seductive. But a solid script doesn’t always make for a solid production. This one is most definitely solid, thanks to Cooper’s direction and the two actors, Michael Tisdale and Gillian Williams.
She switches characters in a flash, convincing both as the actress who plays the ditz to hide her smarts and the cultured, whip-cracking Victorian lady. Tisdale’s role isn’t quite so flamboyant, but he’s able to hold his own, carving out a character that is passionate, controlling and wanting.
Sibyl Wikersheimer’s set design is almost another character. Her shabby warehouse loft, with bricks painted white and chipping, fluorescent lights, and awning windows in metal frames that are rusted around the edges, underscored the desperation and scrappiness of the characters and the story.
“Venus in Fur” isn’t for the puritanical — it’s got some harsh language, skimpy clothing and pretty racy situations.
But it is for theater lovers who relish mixing their laughs with meat. You get both in “Venus in Fur.”