I must start by saying that Venus in Fur at the Asolo Rep is seriously, almost dangerously intense. I don’t want to give away too much; I knew next to nothing about the play going into it, other than the fact that it was recommended for mature audiences only. I’m glad I didn’t read the program before the show began so that I had no idea what to expect. The twists and turns in this brilliant production were alluring, revealing and imaginative.
Despite the warnings, the relationship between the two leads remained relatively chaste throughout the production, but the sexual tension—particularly from our vantage point in the second row—was electric. (Note: If you see this show on a date, please see it with someone you find sexy, because if you don’t, you are in for an uncomfortable evening.)
We begin by meeting a playwright, the uptight and rather priggish Thomas (Scott Kerns). He has a somewhat smug attitude on the phone with his fiancee, who awaits his return at home, as he tells her he found the women he auditioned to play the leading role of Vanda to be trite and dull. In walks a last-minute hopeful who wants desperately to audition for Thomas’ play—and wouldn’t you know, her name is Vanda. Played by Sarah Nealis, Vanda is a fiery redhead who spends the majority of the play in her bra, garters and stockings. She appears at first to be unprepared for the role and cleverly spoofs the acting process as she gets into character. Unsurprisingly, we soon realize she is perfect for the role; and Thomas, reading the male lead, is thrilled with her interpretation of his femme fatale. It is as if he is meeting Vanda for the first time as a fully realized woman. Now that she is three-dimensional, she quite literally has a mind of her own with a personal take on how the role should be played. One can imagine how exciting this must be for a playwright, and we get to be a part of this artistic process.We learn that the play itself, which Vanda calls “porn,” is dark and twisted. Vanda wants to learn more about the man who chose to devote himself to the unusual story, based on the novella Venus in Fur by Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch. The term “masochism” was based on Sacher-Masoch’s literary development of his desire to find pleasure in pain.
By forcing him to play the role she assumes is his alter ego, Vanda peels away at Thomas’ conventional exterior in a veiled attempt to understand why he would be so drawn to this late 19th century novella. As the audition continues, Vanda’s knowledge of the play is revealed to be much more intimate than she initially wanted Thomas to believe. In fact, he finds that her script and the novella, which she brought along to the audition, were both, as he says, “well thumbed.” One wonders what else she was doing while preparing for the role.
Lest I be forced to give you a spoiler alert, I will stop here and advise you that if you want a sophisticated, adults-only evening that is tumultuous and surprising, you must get tickets for this tantalizing production! Go to asolorep.org.