The Roman goddess Venus mostly focused on love, beauty, and sex, depending on how various artists employed her. For Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote Venus in Fur in 1870, she spawned generations of S&M, from his novel about obsession and mockery, all the way through 50 Shades of Gray. Somewhere in-between is Venus in Fur—an off-Broadway play in 2010, a Roman Polanski film in 2012, and now a stage production in Bend in 2015.
David Ives' brilliant two actor show Venus in Fur takes the idea of Sacher-Masoch's novel, mashes it into a tense and funny power struggle, and then melts it into the sexiest Twilight Zone episode ever made.
The premise picks up this thread that has spent the past 150 years wandering through various art forms: Thomas Novachek is a writer-director of a play based on Sacher-Masoch's novel. He has been auditioning actresses all day to play the lead, Wanda von Dunayev, but all the women have failed to impress his imagination. As he is packing it up, Vanda Jordan arrives, a brash and unsophisticated actress who seems woefully inappropriate for the role, but as Thomas and Vanda run lines there is a shifting dynamic that morphs into a dozen iterations, each more shadowy than the last. To tell more of where this sexy comedic thriller goes would be a disservice to a script that revels in its reversals of fortune.
Director Patricia West-Del Ruth captures these shifting dynamics and identities, their rhythm which pulses throughout the play. "I had studied both Clinical and Jungian Psychology, so the idea that this play offered up potentially dueling realities consisting of delusional thinking or mystical dimensions inspired me," explains Del Ruth. "The archetypal meaning of Venus/Aphrodite alone is alluring. And, the idea of directing two characters, one that represented a goddess while the other character, by his own nature, blindly represented a sexist, was just too intriguing not to explore."
Will Futterman plays Thomas Novachek with a subtle hand, instilling a hang-dog humanity in the man that contrasts with Skye Stafford's Vanda beautifully. Stafford imbues Vanda with so many layers that the performance can only be called virtuosic. In just seconds, the actress bounces between being a playful sex kitten to a haunted dominatrix to a broken and wounded lost soul.
The result is a nerve jangling, hot-flash inducing night of theater. Not much skin is shown and the sex is barely suggested, yet sensuality pours across the stage in ways both subtle and dog collared.
As Cascades Theatrical Company's final Black Box show for the season, Venus in Fur proves the viability of doing gutsy theater in Bend. With something this challenging and haunting, CTC is bringing something desperately needed in the local theater scene. You will say thank you...and beg for more.
Venus in Fur
7:30 pm, Thursday-Saturday, May 14-16, 2 pm, Sunday, May 17
Cascades Theatrical Company, 148 NW Greenwood Ave.