Venus in Fur
Also see David's review of Teatro ZinZanni's On the Air
Ives' tale, one rife with sexually provocative dialogue, takes place after a long day's journey turns into an even longer night for New York playwright/director Thomas, who has endured one exasperatingly unsatisfactory actress after another reading for the lead role in his new two-character play, an adaptation of the 1870 novel "Venus in Furs" by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, which inspired the term "masochism." As he is packing up to head home to his girlfriend, a crass, brassy bigger than life actress named Vanda shows up with dozens of excuses for missing her audition appointment earlier. After trying to dismiss, they begin to read through the script together, and lines blur between the pair and the characters on the page. Ives' dialogue is smart and sexy, and we are kept guessing as to what Vanda's real objectives are, and indeed her persona. But, like a certain famous local football game, one side tends to run away with the production.
Gillian Williams as Vanda is a force to be reckoned with, painting a detailed portrait of a mistress of deceit, seduction, delight, controlled fury and the ability to dominate all comers. Vanda has brought fetish wear galore to the audition and costumer Harmony Arnold can be congratulated for giving Ms. Williams the right gear to dress (and undress) for success in this taxing role. Michael Tisdale as Thomas is simply overmatched. The actor is fine in the early going, particularly in his first monolog before Williams arrives, where he unerringly details the doldrums of his casting session that day, and he remains compelling in the pair's early scenes. But as the balance of power shifts, it becomes clear that perhaps both the actor and the role of Thomas as written are less compelling than Vanda/Williams.
Scenic designer Sibyl Wickersheimer has created an expansive New York loft/rehearsal hall space upon which director Cooper choreographs the physical action, which enlivens certain tedious patches of Ives' scripts, and the attendant lightning and thunderstorm going on are evocatively handled by lighting designer Geoff Korf and sound designer Robertson Witmer.
Venus in Fur runs through March 9, 2014, at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer Street in Seattle Center. For ticket information and more, visit www.seattlerep.org.