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vancouverplays review

 

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— Lindsey Angell and Vincent Gale. Photo: David Cooper

VENUS IN FUR
by David Ives
Arts Club Theatre Company
Granville Island Stage
Oct. 3–Nov. 2
$29-$49
www.artsclub.com or 604-687-1644

With Halloween on the horizon it's time to start thinking about the fun of trying on radical identities and kinky costumes. For those of us who watch and do theatre, Halloween is all year round. Dress up. Play someone else. Live a fantasy.

Over at the Arts Club's Granville Island Stage, David Ives' Venus in Fur explores some radical sexual fantasies in a playful if somewhat goofy and overly intellectualized play-within-a-play. Christine Reimer's costumes are as juicy as the acting is terrific--in fact a star is born. You don't need to get off on floggings and spike heels to enjoy this show. But who says a little pain can't be horny.

The play takes its title and subject from an 1869 novel by Austrian author Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, whose name has given us the term masochism. Always intense Vincent Gale plays Thomas, a novice theatre director who has adapted Sacher-Masoch's novel for the stage and is holding auditions for the lead role: a goddess-dominatrix named Wanda (pronounced Vanda), who makes the novel's submissive male protagonist her love-slave.

At the opening, frustrated Thomas phones his fiancée Stacey to complain that he can't find an actress with the right look, range and style who doesn't sound like "a six-year-old on helium." Women today, eh?

Enter gorgeous, funny, radiant Lindsey Angell as a young actress named--what a coincidence!--Vanda. Flustered, late for her audition (though Thomas doesn't even have her on the list), seeming for all the world like a blonde bimbo, she throws off her coat to reveal her idea of an 1870s seductress outfit: black leather underwear and a dog collar of the kind you might find in a cheap sex shop. But she also has a period dress and a lot of other costume pieces in a giant duffel bag she's dragged in.

Vanda convinces Thomas to let her read. He'll play the male role. Though she complains that the story is "S & M porn," she appears to have memorized the entire script. Uninhibited, outspoken and hilarious, she's also very good, to doubting Thomas' surprise. Vanda instantly inhabits the character, and their scenes together have some sizzle.

She's also no dummy. Taking on the director's role, she urges him to get more fully into his part. She suggests he try an accent and even pulls a period frock coat out of her bag for him. It was made in Austria in 1869 and fits him perfectly. Who is this woman, he begins to wonder.
Much of the rest of the play--maybe too much--consists of scenes from the novel enacted by Thomas and Vanda. Sacher-Masoch was no Tolstoy. His characters are arch, his ideas and plot bizarre and contrived, and his dialogue hardly sings. But we need to learn how the novel's male character developed his masochistic sexual tendencies as a boy, dominated and beaten by his fur-wearing countess aunt. Ever since, he's been seeking a woman of "voluptuous cruelty" to similarly dominate him. The novel's Wanda seems just the ticket--a sadistic Venus in fur.
As the audition continues with its kinky sex-talk and role playing, actors and characters start to overlap. Thomas and Vanda become attracted to each other. When things get a little too hot, they break out of character to comment on what they've just played. She complains that the play is scapegoating the Wanda character; Thomas explodes at her: "Idiot woman!"

Why is Thomas so interested in this story anyway, she asks. Is it really for its classical parallels and operatic emotions, as he says, or does Thomas secretly desire something of this radical sexual intensity in his own tame relationship with Stacey, about whom Vanda seems to know a very great deal.
Who is this woman?! Now it's not just Thomas who's wondering. Was Vanda sent by Stacey to test Thomas' fidelity? Is she some guerrilla feminist come to out him as a misogynist pornographer? Could she be a sexual blackmailer?

There's no explicit sex on stage but a scene in which Vanda/Wanda orders him to put her high black leather boots on over her fishnet stockings is pretty torrid. You couldn't hear a breath in the audience for a long minute.

The ending struck me as extremely bizarre, although in retrospect you can see how it has been set up from the beginning.
Except for some overly loud gothic thunder from sound designer Brian Linds, director David Mackay's unfussy production lets the actors do their thing. And what a coming out this is for Studio 58 grad Angell (could that really be her name?). When Venus in Fur played off and on Broadway, the young actress who premiered the role, Nina Arianda, won or was nominated for every acting award in New York. It's a fabulous role, and Angell embraces it with unforced, unselfconscious sensuality and wonderful comic timing.

Gale does a good job holding his own with her. What's a mere mortal to do when a goddess puts her heel to his throat?

Jerry Wasserman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Wasserman