Theater critic Jean Lowerison is surprised by how much she likes this production.
The joys of the whip and absolute, voluntary servitude to a superior Mistress are on display in David Ives’ clever and thought-provoking “Venus in Fur,” playing through June 15 at Chula Vista’s OnStage Playhouse.
Wait! Don’t skip to the next article yet. David Ives’ “Venus in Fur” isn’t kinky porn, it’s a tense, funny and yes, erotically-charged duet examining gender roles and power politics (onstage and off) between theater director Thomas (Tom Steward) and actress-in-search-of-a-job Vanda (Sandra Ruiz).
In a seedy-looking rehearsal hall somewhere in New York City, exhausted and disappointed playwright/director Thomas is about to go home after seeing 35 “hopeless” actresses audition for a part in his play about Sader-Masoch (the writer who gave his name to masochism).
But the door bursts open, and a bedraggled Vanda stumbles in out of the rain, talking a mile a minute about the subway, and being sorry, and asking to please audition even though she’s late.
He tries to brush her off, offering to see her next week, but she keeps talking and begging and he finally relents. He will have to read with her, since the hired hand has long since departed
It will soon become a whole other kind of theater: an erotic dance of power, sensuality and seduction, life-changing for him and fascinating for the audience.
One minute they’re in the play’s 1870 setting, 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 she tears off the dress and stands in her black scanties, long legs and those high boots. Vanda shows more spunk than most women, and soon an extratheatrical event seems almost unavoidable.
Director James P. Darvas plays up both the humor and the sensuousness of the plot, and the actors do likewise. Steward’s Thomas is fascinated by this creature, so different from his girlfriend, yet so much more enticing.
Ruiz’s Vanda, once she’s demonstrated a working knowledge of acting and the bearing and attitude necessary to play her namesake, slowly works on the power game. Will she change his ideas about men and women?
Duane McGregor’s set design is simple yet works well in the space allotted. Lisa Burgess’s costumes set the time frames wonderfully.
Kelsie Morris’s sound design (especially the storm raging outside – is that a portent or just good sound design?) and Santiago Venegas’s lighting add the right atmosphere.
Don’t hesitate. Get down to OnStage Playhouse and find out. But leave the little ones at home.
“Venus in Fur” plays through June 15, 2019 at Onstage Playhouse, 291 Third Avenue in Chula Vista.
Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm
Tickets: (619) 422-7787 or www.onstageplayhouse.org