Venus in Fur
The novel, authored by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, proceeds through the mind of one Severin. That individual is mentioned but never appears in the scripted version. Now, though, adapter/director Thomas (Wells) is at the apex of frustration since he was unable to find a suitable actress, through auditions, for his new work. Vanda (blonde, enticing Rooth) enters after Thomas has recently closed down his rehearsal room. She begs, curses, implores him to listen to her. While she comes across, initially, as less than cerebral and absolutely frazzled, she soon will completely embody her given character. She is Vanda, out of the late 19th century, and she will ultimately control Thomas.
The non-stop action ranges from staccato dramatics through occasional comedy ... it all becomes unbearably intense as Vanda, with an impeccably precise accent, seduces Thomas and shifts the axis of power. The studio, fashioned by scenic designer Donald Eastman, is drab, but Vanda literally varies the lighting through fluorescents provided by light designer John Lasiter. Vincent Olivieri's sound is pivotal at the outset and again later, too.
Vanda would have Thomas and all of us believe that she is a loser typelate to the audition, down on her luck, and, really, quite ignorant. How, then, has she come to have the script of the play-within-the-play memorized? She brings with her a suitable white dress for time (1870) and a green coat for Thomas to wear during a latter portion of the production. Alejo Vietti's costume choices for Rooth's Vanda are appropriate black underwear, stockings, and skirt. The boots that Thomas so deliberately places upon Vanda's feet and legs are ultra-long, reaching to her thighs. That particular scene is, to understate, erotic.
Venus in Fur is a complicated, high voltage piece. We have a sexy young woman making her way toward dominatrix stature, and Vanda is not to be denied. Liv Rooth is simultaneously fetching and cutean intriguing combination. Wells plays Thomas as a complex man who has too much on his mind. For example, the relationship with his fiancée Stacy is called into questionby, of course, Vanda. Vanda (who is smart and knowledgeable) presses Thomas about his motives for writing the play as she escalates and becomes the aggressor. It is up to the theatergoer to analyze, psychologically, what it all means.
Rooth (who understudied this role for the Broadway production) and Wells fully inhabit and shape characters who are anything but one-dimensional and the actors have developed an intelligence of one another on stage which is not easily achieved.
The production carries on forcefully and heightens stakes as it drives ahead. Truly, the performances emanate from within, and understanding of Ives' intent is fully manifested. Homage to the goddess of beauty and love!
Venus in Fur continues at Hartford's TheaterWorks through November 18th. For ticket information, call (860) 527-7838 or visit theaterworkshartford.org.
- Fred Sokol