Saturday, March 15, 2014

Wrapped Up in 'Fur'

By Guest Blogger, Christine Facciolo
Christine holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music and continues to apply her voice to all genres of music. An arts lover since childhood, she currently works as a freelance writer.
While Fifty Shades of Grey reduces sadomasochism to handcuffs and spanking, David Ives’ Venus in Fur — although not above dog collars and riding crops — delves deeper into the complex relationship between dominance and submission in an erotically charged play that revels in ambiguity.

The first scene of Bootless Stageworks’ production of this Tony-nominated play finds Thomas (Sean Gallagher) — the director/playwright of an adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s scandalizing 1870 novella Venus in Furs — pacing around a dingy New York studio after a long day of auditions and complaining to his fiancée over the phone about the pathetic parade of ‘starlets.’ He wants nothing more than to go home when in storms the un-fashionably late Vanda (Kelly Warne), furiously shaking her umbrella and swearing about perverts on the subway. Vanda may share a name with Sacho-Masoch’s leading character, and she may have come at-the-ready in spike heels and black leather bustier, but at first glance she doesn’t seem any different from the other 35 ditzoids he’s seen that day.

That quickly changes when she cajoles Thomas into letting her audition for the part. That’s when things get interesting as the reading and role-playing turn into a tense, erotically-charged exchange. Soon, it becomes less and less clear who is directing and who is acting; who is choosing and who is supplicating. 

This is a play that depends heavily on its two actors, and director Rosanne DellAversano has done a superb job of casting. Obviously, Vanda is the meatier role, and Warne is wickedly masterful as she seamlessly transitions between the character’s various (at last count four) personae. In addition to the modern-day Vanda, the airheaded motor-mouth who dismisses Sacher-Masoch’s book as “porn” and the 19th Century Vanda, a haughty aristocrat with a Continental accent, there’s the seemingly intellectual Vanda who cites Greek mythology and offers cogent psychosexual insights. And she’s hilarious to boot. In the play’s comedic highlight, she lounges suggestively as a love goddess on the divan and, cooing an “I’ll be back” in a German accent that out-Schwarzeneggers even Schwarzenegger.

Through it all, her motives remain tantalizingly mysterious. We never find out how she managed to get hold of a full script instead of just the select pages Thomas provided for the audition or how she was able to commit it to memory from what she claims was a “glance-through” while riding the subway. And how does she know so much about Thomas and his fiancée? Is she a desperate — and clever — actress, or some sort of operative? Or could she really be — as the periodic thunderclaps hint — a goddess? 

Gallagher’s turn as Thomas is far less theatrical, but he conveys the sinewy contours of a complex character with admirable subtlety that plays well off Warne.

This is a taut psychological play that forces us to reexamine our notions of power, gender and sex. Yet for all its sexual tension, for all its stated and implied social criticism, Venus in Fur is plain funny. Ives’ humor keeps it from degenerating into the tawdry and provides a welcome levity that balances the play’s darker themes.

Additional performances run March 15 at 8:00pm; March 16 at 3:00pm; March 20 at 7:30pm; March 21 at 8:00pm; and March 22 at 8:00pm at The Black Box at OperaDelaware Studios, 4 S. Poplar Street in Wilmington.


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