Monday, May 07, 2012

"Venus in Fur"

Where to begin?  This is the question every writer faces.  Every other professional in the world of entertainment gets to start their task with something - a script, character sketch, director's instructions, whatever.  But it is we poor writers who must summon a something out of sheer nothingness.

Fortunately, this writing task is a little easier.  I get to start with another writer's work - specifically, David Ives' staggeringly-brilliant play, based in part on the 19th century novel, "Venus in Fur" by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, one of the books that introduced the world to S&M.  (The "M," of course, being inspired by Sacher-Masoch's name.)

But that sense of terror writers face is present at every moment of this 90-minute two-hander.  It begins with playwright and director Thomas (Hugh Dancy), who has written an adaptation of "Venus in Fur" and is conducting auditions for an actress to play the part of Vanda, the lead character.  Finding no one suitable, he's ready to give up until a young actress - conveniently also named Vanda - steps through the door and proceeds to turn his world upside down.  Which makes sense, because that's what sadists do.  Sadism isn't really about inflicting pain, it's about engendering terror.  Creating chaos so the masochist can experience the terror of not knowing what's coming next.

Thomas is already living in terror, and Vanda only ups the ante.  Here he is, the writer, the director, the man in control.  The person who has created a whole world and thinks he's in charge of it.  At least until Vanda arrives and throws all his expectations out the window.

Both Hugh Dancy and Nina Arianda are wonderful, and it will be a travesty of justice if Nina does not walk away with the Tony.

There is so much richness, so many layers of meaning and plot and character, that I can't really do this justice without giving too much away.  "Venus in Fur" is like one of those Russian nesting dolls - you keep unpacking it and it keeps revealing something new.  This isn't a show about sadism or masochism, necessarily.  It's also about art and theater and the masks we wear - and ask others to wear.

Wear whatever you like - but go.  As soon as you can.

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