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Venus in Fur

Russian nesting dolls have nothing on David Ives' Broadway hit Venus in Fur, a play based on a book (Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs) in which one of the characters references a fictional manuscript (Memoirs of a Suprasensual Man) inspired by a painting (Titian's Venus with a Mirror, a portrait of the naked goddess draped in fur).

Brett Aune as Thomas and Karen Slack as Vanda
Brett Aune as Thomas
and Karen Slack as Vanda
Photo: Michael Ensminger
In the play, now receiving its Denver premiere at Curious Theatre Company, Thomas (Brett Aune), a playwright, is auditioning women for the lead role (Wanda) in his play, based on Sacher-Masoch's book. As the lights come up, Thomas is on his mobile phone complaining about the quality of the actresses he has seen that day.

Following a burst of thunder and lightning, in walks Vanda (Karen Slack), hours late for her appointment, drenched from the rain, bemoaning the unlucky series of events that precipitated her tardiness, toting a bag of costumes and props.

Brett Aune as Thomas and Karen Slack as Vanda
Brett Aune as Thomas
and Karen Slack as Vanda
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Not exactly the way to start an audition; in fact, Thomas would like to call it a day and spend the evening with his fiance. But Vanda is nothing if not persistent. Once they begin reading, shifts ensue in the traditional director-actor relationship.

Despite the fact that the term masochism is derived from Sacher-Masoch, and despite some characterizations of the play and its source as dealing with sado-masochism, the physical, emotional, and psychological activities point to much larger issues. In Sacher-Masoch's book (Memoirs of a Suprasensual Man) within his book (Venus in Furs), he writes of Wanda:

That woman, as nature has created her, and man at present is educating her, is man's enemy. She can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion. This she can become only when she has the same rights as he and is his equal in education and work.

Brett Aune as Thomas and Karen Slack as Vanda
Brett Aune as Thomas
and Karen Slack as Vanda
Photo: Michael Ensminger
In Vanda, Ives has written a role to die for and, indeed, Nina Arianda won a Tony for it in 2012. Slack's performance is riveting, as she effortlessly and continually turns Vanda's personality on a dime to reveal the actress' hypersensitivity and resulting intuitive responses to Thomas' changing moods and perceptions, as well as to his desire for an incarnate dominatrix.

Aune's finely tuned complimentary arc as Thomas is one of diminution and attrition of power, a slow letting go of control, as Vanda's sharp insights bring Thomas face to face with his subliminal motivation in writing this adaptation.

Karen Slack as Vanda and Brett Aune as Thomas
Karen Slack as Vanda
and Brett Aune as Thomas
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Curious could also sell tickets to all those missing the audition scene in New York, who would feel right at home in Michael Duran's phenomenal set (props by Ann Meilahn), a dank old industrial space filled with the most basic functional features: an inset fan, frosted windows and a skylight, pipes, fluorescent lights and dim incandescent fixtures, a fuse box, venetian blinds, a few chains with hooks, a wooden desk and metal chair, some crates, and a lovely divan. All this is set off by sound (Jason Ducat) and lighting (Shannon McKinney) pyrotechnics, and evocative costumes (Kevin Brainerd).

Like the Bard's Scottish play, Ives conjures a visitation from another dimension, and producing artistic director Chip Walton and his talented actors and designers deliver this in spades. Don't miss it!

Curious Theatre Company's presentation of the Denver premiere of David Ives' Venus in Fur runs through June 14th. For more information: 303-623-0524 or www.curioustheatre.org.

Bob Bows

 

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