Saturday, January 11, 2014

Venus in Fur

Last night a bunch of us went to watch Venus in Fur written by David Ives, who in the program is posing like his hands are a waffle cone and his face is a scoop of ice cream. He adapted the play from the "notorious" 1870 tract, Venus im Pelz, created by Austrian Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Von Sacher-Masoch's name is the origin of the term "masochism," so no, the book is not about unicorns and puppies. It's about a man who wants to be dominated and the woman who does so.

The play is a riot. It's often hilarious and at times uncomfortable. Venus in Fur only has two characters: Thomas (Chris Kipiniak) the playwright and director, and Vanda (Andrea Syglowski) the actress. Despite taking a play-within-a-play structure, the premise is straightforward: Thomas has adapted the play Venus in Fur and has just finished auditioning for the main female role of Vanda. He is displeased with the low quality of the actresses who came in. He is about to storm off when a woman named Vanda rushes in and begs to be considered. She is so frenetic and enthusiastic about the role, and clearly trying so hard to butter him up, that Thomas eventually relents.

Vanda gets into costume and disappears into a doorway singing something inane. She emerges as the play's Vanda, a beautiful, wealthy, self-possessed aristocrat who engages the male lead Severin (as read by Thomas) in sparkling conversation with sexual undertones. Both Thomas and the audience are struck by the transformation, which Syglowski does beautifully by initially playing Vanda as a space cadet. She then breaks character hilariously ("That's the end of page three"), the first of many charming tonal shifts that both thespians engage in.

The "audition" continues well past the point initially agreed, sometimes interrupted by Vanda's questioning or editorializing, and Thomas' fiery defense of his art. She compares the story to pornography, accuses it of being sexist, points out that her character doesn't actually have agency, and scoffs at the play's final act. Meanwhile, Thomas is furious about his work being misunderstood. Vanda later reveals a detailed knowledge of Thomas' personal life, and, once he's shaken, persuades him to reverse roles -- he will play Vanda, and she will be Severin.

I shan't spoil the ending, but here's a picture from the Huntington Theater Company:

Woohoo! Art! That searing exploration of the depths and heights of human nature! That which allows us to underline the beautiful and the absurd whilst wearing shiny thigh-high stripper boots!

In conclusion: As with any piece of art/adaptation of literature, consumers are free to interpret based on their own contexts. I saw it as Ives' satire about the playwright who lacks self-awareness. Fear the muse, could also be considered a main theme, especially given Vanda's improvisation of a bubbly Venus/Aphrodite with a Russian accent. That's just me. But I enjoyed the hell out of it, which I'm pretty sure is the point.

This post brought to you by Cat on Lap Protocol (Home Law § "If a cat is on the lap of a home resident or guest, said home resident or guest is exempt from all movement required for retrieving essential items such as beer, food, or electronic devices.")

Summer Book Recommendations