When a man writes a play about a masochistic relationship, how much of his inner nature goes into the characters he creates? And when an actress plays a cold, domineering woman, how much of herself does she bring to the part?
These questions loom large in the dark comedy now at the B Street Theatre. There are just two characters – a writer who’s adapted a steamy 19th century German novel for the stage, and a mysterious actress who comes to audition. The writer explains that the old novel was written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch – for whom the modern term “masochism” is named.
Thomas: “ ‘Venus in Fur’ is a great love story. It’s a serious novel. It’s a central text of world literature.”
Vanda: “Oh, well I thought from the play it had to be porn. But hey, you don’t have to tell me about sadomasochism. I’m in the theater!” (Laughter)
This kind of layered dialog, weaving literary terms with in-jokes about acting, is common throughout this show. And as the writer and the actress read for the audition, it becomes hard to tell whether they’re acting or showing their true colors. Listen careful to this exchange – the writer begins speaking as a tormented character in his play… but then his cell phone rings.
Thomas: “Every woman wants to be worshiped, just as our creator does. So, create me! Ruin me! Annihilate me! (cell phone ring) Excuse me!” (answer phone) Hi! No, no, I’m still here. No, everything’s good, everything’s good.”
He’s talking to his fiancé. But don’t you think he sounded like he meant it, speaking as a man who enjoys being ordered around?
This is a play in which the true agenda is only gradually revealed, just as actress Dana Brooke unbuttons a bulky overcoat to reveal black leather and studs. It’s a long ways from the light romantic comedies that once were a staple at the B Street. But “Venus in Fur” is still a comedy, albeit one with dark intent. And this production is smartly acted and crisply directed, building to a striking climax. If you’re looking for sophisticated humor running toward the kinky side, “Venus in Fur” is both remarkably funny and insidious, all at the same time.
Venus in Fur continues at the B Street Theatre through August 11th.
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