Such an ordinary beginning: a theater director is about to go home after an exhausting and fruitless day of auditions when a frazzled actress bursts in, wearing what I’d call slutty dominatrix attire, spouting expletives, apologizing for her tardiness and begging to be heard.
Thomas (Jeffrey Meek) tries to brush her off, but Vanda (Caroline Kinsolving) keeps talking in that urgent New York manner until she wears him down. It will prove to be life-changing for him and utterly fascinating for us spectators.
The local premiere of David Ives’ “Venus In Fur” plays through Dec. 8 at San Diego Repertory Theatre under the assured direction of UCSD’s Kim Rubinstein and the Rep’s Sam Woodhouse.
Thomas is also the playwright; he’s casting for his adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel “Venus in Furs” (this is the man who gave his name to the term “masochism”) and in 35 auditions has found no one capable of this job.
Thomas is forced to read with her (the hired hand has already gone home), and the play turns out to be an erotic dance of power, sensuality, lies and seduction, played out in the round in the Rep’s small Space theater.
It’s a fascinating pas de deux. One minute they’re in the play’s 1870 setting, playing costumed characters (Vanda’s brought the costumes) with a vaguely European accent and 19th-century sensibilities. Suddenly they’re back in the present, Vanda asking how to read a line, Thomas telling her where to stand.
Now she’s elegantly attired in a long, ecru lace dress; then tears the dress off and shimmies up a pole in her underwear in the dingy, basement-like room. Both realize that something extratheatrical is happening between them.
Gender, power and even identity politics are on display and under examination, the context of Masoch’s master/slave relationship butting up against (or perhaps complementing) today’s version of the independent woman.
Kudos to Jennifer Brawn Gittings for Vanda’s just-right costumes, to Robin Sanford Roberts for the shopworn-looking set.
Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz contributes strange and interesting lighting patterns, and
George Yé’s almost eerie sound design adds aural interest.
Meek is excellent as Thomas, his transformation from annoyed to impressed to captivated supplicant mirroring Kushemski’s.
But Venus, ruler of grace, charm and beauty (not to mention love and money), owns this play, despite Vanda’s contention that it’s really the slave that commands. Fortunately, Meek gets out of the way and Kinsolving is not shy about taking over. She is a pleasure to watch – both beautiful and a fine actress who can switch centuries in a trice, with accents, vocabulary and postures to match.
This is erotic theater for the thinking person, offering food for thought as well as humorous interactions and a bit of kinky eye candy (and Kinsolving scaling that pole). Leave the kids at home, but don’t miss this play.
“Venus In Fur” plays through Dec. 8 at San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown.
Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.
Tickets: (619) 544-1000 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.