Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Venus in Fur
Cleveland Play House

Vanessa Wasche and Michael Brusasco
Is this Venus the Roman goddess of love and beauty? Does she have the man-eating traits of the venus fly trap? Or has the Cleveland Play House brought to the stage another cute, wanna-be actress with a modicum of talent? The action taking place in The Cleveland Play House's Second Stage is filled with beauty (not so much love), lust, man-eating and another cute, talented actress. This is Venus in Fur.

In a rented rehearsal studio in New York City, Thomas Novachek (Michael Brusasco) spent a day auditioning women for a play he adapted from a German novel and that he plans to direct. As he telephones Stacey, his fiancée, a brash young actress walks into the studio and demands to be auditioned. This is Vanda Jordan (Vanessa Wasche).

She insists on reading the script with Thomas. They assume the characters and at the end of the reading he makes two important observations. She has read the script and she is good in the role. He insists he has the only copy of the complete script. She insists her agent gave her the complete script and she read the novel Thomas adapted for the script.

She came prepared to audition. She carried with her a large piece of gaudy, plastic luggage filled with costumes for both of them and, as the reading progresses, she lifts more and more appropriate costumes from the bag.

Vanda spends much of her time on stage in black lingerie, a black garter belt, black stockings and black stiletto heels. In one scene, she takes a pair of black thigh-high boots from the bag and tells Thomas to put them on her. Not a word is spoken. This quiet scene reeks with eroticism. In truth, both performers are good looking and bring personal magnetism and sexual understanding to their performances.

Brusasco and Wasche play two characters each. First, they play Thomas and Vanda. And, for long stretches of the play, they become the characters in Thomas' play. Toward the end of the play, the characters become confused. Thomas plays Vanda and Vanda plays Thomas. And then, they live the characters in Thomas' play.

Power and discussions of power provide the foundation for the story. The power plays start with the power of the director to cast or not cast whom he pleases. Yet, Vanda takes the story to a higher power level in order to win the role and, perhaps, to teach young Thomas who has the real power in life. But, in Venus in Fur the power struggle becomes even loftier, earthier, and much more fun.

The actors seem perfectly cast in this 90-minute play. Brusasco struts the stage with a swagger and self confidence. He has become the all-powerful director. He can select the actress he wants (if he can find her) to play the lead in his play. Wasche claims the stage and the role with her well-trained voice and her ability to jump out of her clothing and taunt the director in her black lingerie and stilettos. The Vanda role functions on several levels and offers multiple challenges to the actress playing the role. The Thomas role doesn't have the same variety and the nuances of the Vanda role.

David Ives earned a Tony Award nomination for this script. Nina Arianda received the Tony Award for her performance in the Broadway production.

Cameron Caley Michalak (scenic designer) has placed the playing area on a runway that extends from one side of the Second Stage to the other. About 160 audience members can sit on either side of the runway. At one end of the runway is a platform and large windows through which the characters and audience can see rain and lightening. At the other end of the runway is a door leading into the rented rehearsal studio a. On the runway is table and chair for the director, a chaise lounge, and a small table with a coffee maker.

Second Stage is the Cleveland Play House's smaller theater. Venus in Fur fits like hand in glove in this theater.

One and two-person plays often lack variety. Laura Kepley (director) does a masterful job of giving this two-person script plenty of variety and making it sexy and delightfully humorous. Kepley has recently been named the Artistic Director of the Cleveland Play House.

The cast and crew work together to make Venus in Fur an excellent production. The show has been so well received the company has added three performances.

Venus in Fur through November 30. For ticket information call 216-241-6000 or visit The next production scheduled in the Cleveland Play House will be A Christmas Story (November 29 - December 22, 2013).

Venus in Fur
Second Stage
The Cleveland Play House

By David Ives
Thomas Novachek: Michael Brusasco
Vanda Jordan: Vanessa Wasche
Direction by Laura Kepley
Scenic Designer: Cameron Caley Michalak
Costume Designer: Whitney Locher
Lighting Designer: Michael Boll
Sound Designer: James C. Swonger
Stage Manager: John Godbout.

Photo: Roger Mastroianni

- David Ritchey

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