Director: Jennifer Tarver
Playwright: David Ives
Starring: Rick Miller, Carly Street
Run time: 90 minutes, no intermission
When one experiences a moment of pin-drop silence in a packed theatre, one knows that the audience is hanging by a thread, super-glued to the performance. Jennifer Tarver’s Venus in Fur is quite a mind-boggling theatre experience.
Venus in Fur is a story by award winning playwright David Ives, based around an 1870 erotic novel by Austrian author Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch. Ives’ masterpiece puts the spotlight on Thomas Novachek (Rick Miller), a determined playwright-director searching feverishly for an actress to play Wanda von Dunajew, the lead in his adaptation of Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch’s book. Set in a simplistic audition room on a gloomy, New York City night, a young actress named Vanda Jordan (Carly Street) walks in during a stressful time to prove that she has what it takes to play the iconic Wanda. What ensues is a duel of dialogue that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy and tests each character’s true power against the other’s.
What happens when the theatre lights dim and the stage lights come on is ninety minutes of amazing acting. The performances delivered by the two artists are mind blowing. Rick Miller captures Thomas Novachek to a T, highlighting his composed and confident side but still revealing his desperation, emotion, and passion, especially for his work. The beauty of Miller’s performance lies also in keeping a certain composure for his character throughout, letting moments of absolute shock to really make an impact. From Thomas’ accent, to the way he moves, to even the smile on his face, Miller does the character justice. Then Carly Street walks in to the picture and the audience experiences a proper “OMG” moment. This woman takes her character and lives her. Vanda is a slightly crazy, super ambitious up-and-coming actress from New Jersey, and she nails every element, from her accent to the way in which she behaves. All the stereotypical elements that are popping into one’s head right now were thrown by Street out there on the stage. Street also shows her confidence in performing with the clothing that she has on, making her performance even more amazing.
The beauty in these performances lies not just in how they present their immediate characters, but in their abilities to step into their sub-characters as well. Both Miller and Street are masters of accents. Street’s Vanda simply phases out of her crazy Jersey girl side and into an eloquent, beautiful, and majestic image of Wanda, with a truly powerful voice. Miller, by the same token, showcases his mastery of the Austrian-German accent of the period when his Thomas tackles the role of Severin von Kusiemski. Both individuals demonstrate their mastery of the dialogue, which is further heightened as the play develops. Street, at moments, snaps from Wanda to Vanda and then back to Wanda, and the audience is left with a dropped jaw. The chemistry these two exhibit is stunning, and their performances together are truly beautiful to watch.
The production deals with a variety of different topics; everything from the gender divide to feminism is tackled, taking opposite sexes and putting them into a duel of mind, body, and emotion. The production taps into the psyche of the human mind, breaking down the way both males and females think, and creating a mind-twisting game fulfilling one’s inner deep and dark desires. The work features flowery comedy that makes one laugh out loud properly. However, when the mood gets dark, it goes there properly, too. What the audience members experience is a shift in emotion and state within split second moments. One may want to feel one way but are quickly interrupted, then interrupted again and taken back to how one initially felt. On every level, this play grips the audience from start to finish and does not for one moment allow them to turn away.
The creative team has worked wonders with this production. As one enters, they are greeted with an industrial glass-pane wall, surrounded by a very minimalist set. The lack of distracting elements allows one to keep their eyes fixed on the dialogue duel that ensues on stage. The initial concern was that the stage may be too minimalist, but the added value of various lighting techniques makes everything work. The costumes, by the same token, hit their mark. Miller’s simple combination of sweater and pants highlights Thomas’ serious and composed side, while Street’s kinky outfit and dress let her highlight both her primary and sub characters very effectively.
Tarver’s production of Venus in Fur is a truly refreshing theatre experience. There are many plays that are thought-provoking productions, allowing the audience the opportunity to really think. This production, however, takes very deep and heavy topics and then says, “Let me show you what I mean.” It creates a scenario to bring these various topics together and then lets it play out, and the experience is mind blowing. What one ends up watching is ninety minutes of pure, thought-provoking, ridiculously-amazing, performance-heavy theatre in all its glory. The word “awesome” is quite literally an understatement. Catch this show while it’s in town or one will regret it.
Venus in Fur plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts until October 27th, 2013. For tickets, visit www.canadianstage.com/online/venus
Photo Credits: David Hou / Canadian Stage