Running for only 95 minutes, with a cast of only two characters, Goodman Theatre’s Venus in Fur keeps it short, and simple- but far from sweet. The lack of saccharinity by no means detracts from production. In fact, this absence allows room for the play’s appealing provocative edge.
Featuring two strong characters with undeniable chemistry, it would have been easy for playwright David Ives to fall into the trap of a writing cutesy and clichéd love story. Thankfully the plot steered far away from that, and he instead crafted a fiery lust story between aspiring actress Vanda (Amanda Drinkall) and pretentious director Thomas (Rufus Collins). Venus in Fur begins with Thomas complaining on the phone about his disastrous auditions for his play, also named Venus in Fur. His call is interrupted by an actress who at first appears to be everything Thomas was not looking for: Ignorant, unsophisticated and worst of all, late. But Vonda begs for him to give her a chance, and he complies. The pair begin reading Thomas’ adaption of a provocative novel about masochism. Thomas reads the part of Severin, who is desperate to be dominated by Vanda’s character, Wanda. As the two delve deeper into the script, the sexual tension between the eighteenth century couple manifests onto its characters in the present, and the lines of rehearsal and reality start to blur.
The play progresses, and Vonda and Thomas struggle for power over the other while their erotic interactions intensify. Throughout these interactions, actors Drinkall and Collins expertly balance the complex emotions and motivations of their characters. The lust, passion and power-hungry vulnerability of Vonda and Thomas are evident and both importantly leave out traces of emotional intimacy- which would have detracted from their character’s motivations. Though both actors are extremely talented, Drinkall’s spunk unquestionably overshadows her partner. She stayed true to character, yet all the while I could tell she was enjoying every minute on stage. The transparency through Venus, offered a window Drinkall’s enthusiasm, which only amplified her performance.
I can see how people can (and have) criticized the clichéd nature of Venus in Fur. But I believe those who do need to reexamine the complexity of the play’s themes. Yes, a woman abusing a man for his sexual pleasure is in no way original, but Ives used this cliché as a baseline to explore more intricate themes about perceived male-female roles in a relationship and society in general- making Venus in Fur quite original.
Directed by Joanie Schultz, Goodman Theater’s production of Venus in Fur, is thought provoking, entertaining, and overall thoroughly enjoyable.