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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Venus in Fur: A Funny and Literate Take
on Sado-Masochism


Jenni Putney and Mark Alhadeff
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 German novella "Venus in Furs" (Venus im Pelz) is inspiration, narrative device, and the basis for a couple of scenes for a play within a play in David Ives' Venus in Fur, a literate and modern sex comedy which garnered high critical praise and strong attendance when it was produced on Broadway last season. It would be a stretch to call it an adaptation of the most influential work of the man whose name is the basis for the proclivity known as "masochism". It is not a stretch to recommend the excellent production that is on stage at the George Street Playhouse for providing New Jersey audiences the opportunity to savor it.

The setting is a bare bones rented rehearsal studio. It is already evening. Thomas has spent the day unsuccessfully auditioning actresses for a stage production of his adaptation of Sacher-Masoch's novella which he is also directing. He is quite the misogynist as he talks on the telephone lamenting the crudeness, stupidity, lack of talent, and compromised femininity of the 35 actresses whom he has interviewed today. As Thomas is preparing to depart, Vanda, who has the same name as the woman in the novella, bursts into the studio, claiming that she is hours late for her audition appointment because of a series of mishaps. Vanda is not listed on the appointment schedule, her behavior mirrors Thomas' derisive description of those who auditioned earlier, and Thomas is late for a date with his fiancée. However, Vanda strongly imposes herself upon him. Thomas not only agrees to audition her, but also to read the other role with her.

Unaccountably, Vanda has a copy of the play's script, and has brought costumes and props with her. As she auditions, she displays inexplicable abilities and strengths. Vanda displays a deep understanding of the novella and its characters. As soon as she begins her audition, her speech and manner fully and effectively become those of Sacher-Masoch's 19th century Vanda. This is just for beginners. As Vanda and Thomas continue reading the play within a play, auditioning Vanda completely transforms herself into the Sacher-Masoch Vanda and assumes dominance over Thomas. Thomas, who Vanda knows has fears of being dominated by a strong woman, is turned on by her whip wielding and fur wearing erotic performance.

Jenni Putney fearlessly and with fervor plunges into the oversized personalities and maniacal comic and/or erotic routines of David Ives and director Kip Fagan have designed for her. In the role of Thomas, Mark Alhadeff displays the requisite smugness and underlying weakness to make a most effective foil for Putney.

Venus in Fur could certainly be interpreted as a feminist play in which psychosexual fears of men, and their corollary need to attain dominance over women in the workplace (in this play, during the audition process), are exposed. Thus, Thomas is brought down quite a few pegs by the strong and shrewd Vanda. Thomas should be the happier by being freed from his hostilities and fears, but it will require sustained assertiveness by Vanda to prevent Thomas from reverting.

Ives is a bit overly ambitious in placing on the table too many not readily digestible snap classic mythology references. At some point, rather than enriching Venus in Fur, they distract from our concentration on its comic invention. I also think that the play would have been stronger if the mystery behind modern day Vanda was explained by the initial impetus for the narrator of the prologue to Venus im Pelz rather than the explanation that Ives provides. None of these thoughts has to intrude on a compliant viewer's laughter at the delicious comedy provided by this superior play and production.

The erudite and popular Venus in Fur provides a full measure of high level humor. Its captivating George Street Playhouse production is well worth a visit.

Venus in Fur continues performances (Evenings: Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm (excluding 5/9); Sunday 7 pm/ Matinees: Thursday, Saturday-Sunday 2 pm) through May 18, 2013, at the Arthur Laurents Stage at George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ. 08901; Box Office: 732-246-7717; on-line:www.GSPonline.org

Venus in Fur by David Ives; directed by Kip Fagan.

Cast
Thomas…………..Mark Alhadeff
Vanda……………...Jenni Putney


- Bob Rendell


Photo: Photos by Bob Eberle



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