The Ridgelea Reports on Theatre
“Venus in Fur,” at TheaterWorks Hartford through November 11
David Ives’ delicious comedy about a seeming nitwit who turns up late for an audition for a classic drama about love and submission, but manages to capture the playwright’s full attention, opened the new season at TheaterWorks Hartford on October 12, directed by Rob Ruggerio, who is the Interim Artistic Director of TheaterWorks.
It’s a thoroughly amusing show, cleverly designed around two personalities who need to find an anchor. They read a script together that is about two personalities who have by coincidence anchored in a dominant-submissive relationship. Thomas, the playwright (beautifully performed by David Christopher Wells) is a perfectionist who wants to cast and direct his own adaptation of a classic German novella, entitled “Venus im Pelz.” The novella was written in 1870, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, for whom sado-masochism is named. It describes the love affair of a writer with a fetish for furs who has met an imposing woman with the made-up title of Baroness Wanda von Dunajew. He begs her to humiliate him, and turn him into her slave. Although it shocked readers when it was published, the main cultural insult in the novella was its claim that women deserve and should have equal power in education and work with men.
For this play, it helps us to know that the characters in the novella have reinvented themselves -- that is, assumed a role -- so that they can act out who they think they would really like to be. So back to the nitwit (Liv Rooth), who enters late for the audition. Rooth is wonderful as she kicks her duffel and complains about the world, and God, kicking her, again! She claims her name is Vanda, ‘well Wanda, really, but pronounced Vanda,’ that she isn’t much of a reader, but has glanced over the script given her by her agent. She’s dressed in what Thomas considers appalling gear, and he tries to send her packing. But she begs him, and succeeds in getting him to read with her the first few pages about the return of a book and the ‘well-thumbed’ bookmark (with Titian’s “Venus in the Mirror” upon it -- a stunning nude Venus in a fur wrap) inside it. When this wacky personality actually says the lines with some authority and poise, Thomas and Vanda begin a dance of linked souls that continues to grow in intensity until the final curtain. You may be distracted by some of the steps involved, but you will appreciate the delicate balance as these two actors maneuver through the roles they are creating with each other’s fantasies.
Rob Ruggerio has staged the play with care and good taste. Absolute nudity is avoided but implied. The two actors demonstrate all sorts of emotions and behaviors, and when they are called upon to switch roles, they do it magnificently. The set (Donald Eastman) is simple and flexible. The lighting (John Lasiter) and sound (Vincent Olivieri and Beth Lake) are incredibly important in the script and are beautifully done. The costumes (Alejo Vietti), many of which appear magically from Ms. Rooth’s duffle bag, are splendid, and provide a trigger for the sensuality that is so well developed between the actors.
Bottom line: “Venus in Fur” is a hot ticket, and a great beginning for TheaterWorks 27th season. Die kinder mussen bleiben at home. For all others, order tickets at (860) 527-7838. Information at www.theaterworkshartford.org
Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre, October 13, 2012