Venus in Fur
At the Arts Club Granville Island Stage until Nov. 2
In Venus in Fur, a storm is brewing outside but it’s nothing compared to the storm that’s about to break inside the rehearsal hall where Thomas (Vincent Gale), a playwright and director, has just wrapped up auditioning three dozen actresses for a role in a play he has adapted from the erotic late 19th century Venus in Furs. (This is an actual novel by Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, from whose name “masochism” is derived).
Thomas has just finished bitching on the phone to his fiancée, “There are no sexy-slash-articulate young women with some classical training and a particle of brain in their skulls,” when foul-mouthed, flustered Vanda (Lindsey Angell), late for a supposed 2:15 p.m. audition, enters lugging a huge sports bag full of costumes. She’s a flake but she’s gorgeous, extremely persuasive and so Thomas wearily agrees to let her read. The character she’s auditioning for is, amazingly, also called Vanda. Whipping off her trench coat, Vanda wears black leather lingerie, fishnet stockings and stilettos.
She insists he read the role of Severin von Kumienski, the love interest in the novel/play. They begin and Vanda is suddenly sexy, smart, articulate and soon has Thomas doing exactly what she wants. His play is about sado-masochism, sexual politics, the erotic pleasure some find in pain and/or subjugation. Domination and dominated: Vanda has a natural flair for it and, somewhat surprisingly, so does Thomas.
One highlight of Venus in Fur is when Vanda commands Thomas to put her thigh-high black leather boots on her. Gale holds Angell’s stockinged foot as if it is a fragile, living thing before sliding her foot into the boot and slowly, oh so slowly, finding the zipper and zipping it up to her thigh. And then the other boot. They don’t speak and the almost unbearably long silence is dripping with eroticism. We hold our breath although there might have been some heavy breathing going on, too.
So who is this Vanda? Why is she suddenly so smart, so sophisticated, so off-book?
There are so much reversals in Venus in Fur that I thought I had whiplash when the curtain fell: Vanda’s in control; now Thomas is; uh-oh, she has the upper hand again. Is that Thomas on his knees?
When Thomas and Vanda are Severin and Vanda they both have cultivated “continental” accents; ditzy Vanda and Thomas have normal, unaccented voices. As the power balance starts to get messed up, you have to keep your wits about you. Is she 21st century Vanda or 19th century Vanda; is he Thomas or Severin?
But confusion is offset with the pleasure of watching these two actors strike sparks off each other. Angell is fantastic, switching from potty-mouthed Vanda in black leather to haughty, historical Vanda in a frothy white period gown, which would be virginal except that it’s open up the front from the toe to the waist, revealing all that skimpy black lingerie and milky thighs. Costume designer Christine Reimer may have been inspired by porn sites for Angell’s kinky costume: it’s so wicked.
Gale’s Thomas is, more or less, straight man to Angell’s outrageous Vanda but Gale bursts into several very revealing tirades that absolutely nail Thomas as a misogynistic jerk. As the submissive Severin, Gale knuckles under with such passivity, he’s downright pathetic. The electricity between these two fills the theatre.
David Mackay directs this funny, smart and sexy romp on John Webber’s brick wall-cum-scrim set; Brian Linds is responsible for frightening us out of our seats with the sound of thunder. Venus in Fur is probably not great first-date material, guys, unless you curious about your date’s dominatrix quotient and want to check it out. Will she get all hot and bothered when the dog collar comes off Vanda and goes around Thomas’s neck?
For more reviews, go to joledingham.ca
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