Manhattan Theatre Club
Venus in Fur
(Venus in Fur Website)
By David Ives
Lynn Meadow, Artistic Director
Barry Grove, Exec. Producer
Directed by Walter Bobbie
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street
Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy
Scenic Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Anita Yavich
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Fight Direction: Thomas Schall
Production Stage Manager: Winnie Y. Lok
Casting: Nancy Piccione & James Calleri
General Manager: Florie Seery
Artistic Producer: Mandy Greenfield
Director of Artistic Development: Jerry Patch
Director of Marketing: Debra Waxman-Pilla
Director of Development: Lynne Randall
Production Manager: Joshua Helman
Artistic Line Producer: Lisa McNulty
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 10, 2011
David Ives’ Venus in Fur has moved uptown to Broadway, from its recent Off-Broadway run, and I was thrilled to finally see Nina Arianda in the most buzzed about role, having missed her the first time around. She plays Vanda, a duel-role, as Vanda is the almost-too-late actress, arriving for an important acting audition, trying out for the role of Vanda, the sadistic seductress, who delights and entertains a noble gentleman, in a new theatrical adaptation of a 19th century novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, for whom the term, “masochism” is named. Ives opens his play with a thunderstorm, as Thomas (Hugh Dancy), is about to give up on finding a great actress for his new great play. A telephone enables the audience to see into his chagrin, as Thomas converses with his girlfriend about the sorry state of available actresses and his utter exhaustion in casting his play. The set is dim, but expansive, with a desk, chair, fainting couch, and center poles.
To the rescue, Vanda arrives, with a Lucille Ball zaniness, upset about the weather and the trains. She’s got a large bag of costumes and props, and she begs with aplomb for her lucky break. Thomas begs as well, that is, for her to leave, but Vanda knows her way around healthy, artistic men, and her spicy black lingerie infuses fire into the studio. The role includes a whip and a rope, but the actress sounds like a silent film star at the advent of talkies. Also in Vanda’s bag is a white frilly dress and a furry boa, so Thomas gives in, and the second shock occurs, not torrential rain and thunder, but torrential talent and chemistry. Vanda metamorphoses from dizzy, daffy to polished, proficient. She assumes a German accent par excellence, and pounces about the stage like a panther on ginseng. From the fainting couch, to the desk, to the whip, to the boa, Ms. Arianda mesmerizes the eye, as she enacts Thomas’ dramatic oeuvre, as he, himself, plays the noble gentleman, who loves being tortured and tormented.
Psychological, physical, sexual pain is dramatically inflicted, although within the realm of literary fantasy. Thomas is overwhelmed with rapid respect, as control shifts from restrained playwright to theatrical neophyte. Vanda interrupts the reading frequently, to absorb her character’s motives and eccentricities, astounding Thomas, as she switches seamlessly in accent and affect. Ms. Arianda astounds the audience, as well, with her magnetic presence and mastery of the complex dialogue, in the play within the play. Mr. Dancy plays the playwright-director with sophisticated strength, shifting, as well, from twenty-first century, actress audition to 19th century, German psycho-drama. David Ives has another surprise up his sleeve, as the puzzle unfolds, regarding Vanda’s advance information on Thomas’ private world and the intricacies of his play.
Walter Bobbie has ingeniously directed both actors for the interchanging dialogue and shaping of personalities and enunciation. John Lee Beatty’s set is spare enough to allow the eye to focus on the critical pieces of furniture, and Anita Yavich’s costumes highlight the delusional dynamics. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting keeps Thomas’ studio dark and dank, on this late, stormy day, and Thomas Schall’s fight direction keeps Mr. Dancy and Ms. Arianda from actually sustaining injuries in the most memorable scenes. Kudos to Manhattan Theatre Club, and kudos to all.