- Photo by Scott Suchman
"Usually, I'm really demure and shit," says Vanya, an actress who has poured herself into a corset, and plopped herself into the bare room where playwright Thomas is holding a casting call. It's clear that Vanda (Erica Sullivan), with her Jersey accent and airheadedness ("I love your plays! I mean the ones I know") isn't right for the part – until she strong-arms Thomas (Christian Conn) into giving her a chance to read, and suddenly morphs into a compelling, and intelligent, theatrical presence. Thomas, mesmerised, gives Vanya a chance to sink her claws into the role – and into him, for the reading is of the playwright's adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 novel, Venus in Furs.
In David Ives' clever, meta play, we watch an adaptation of an adaptation of the novel unfold before us, as Vanya auditions for the role that shares her name, among other all-too-coincidental hints of what's to come. If you don't know Sacher-Masoch's name, you'll know the word that it coined: "Masochism," which is the subject of his story about a young man who wants to be dominated by the woman he loves. But in forcing Vanya the character to submit to his masochism, the submissive relationship still gives him the upper hand and renders the author a sexist, as Vanya the actress points out – and that allegation brings out latent characteristics in Thomas as well.
Venus in Fur is rather predictable – once Vanda shows the slightest bit of supremacy, you see exactly where Ives is taking us – but there are still surprises along the way. One of those is a devastating monologue about the compromises that Thomas is making in marrying his fiancee. With her, Thomas can look forward to a life of discussing French philosophy and the New York Review of Books and having very quiet sex, says Vanda, and she makes these things sound like a death sentence. But Ives demonstrates that he is a student of Sacher-Masoch's: Just as he brings us to pleasure, he administers a delicious pain.