Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

Venus in Fur

Betsy Graver and
Matthew William Chizever

GableStage presents the Southeastern premiere of Venus in Fur by David Ives. Venus in Fur originally opened Off-Broadway at the Classic Stage Company on January 13, 2010, and closed on March 7, 2010. It played on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre November 8 - December 18, 2011, then resumed performances at the Lyceum Theatre February 7 - June 17, 2012. The Off-Broadway and Broadway productions resulted in a Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play for Nina Arianda, Lucille Lortel Award nominations for Outstanding Director and Outstanding Costume Design, a Drama League Award nomination for Distinguished Production of a Play, and a Tony Award nomination for Best Play.

The 90-minute, one-act play tells the story of Thomas, the young, married writer and director of a new play called Venus in Fur. His play is based on the Austrian novella "Venus in Furs" written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch in 1870. This novella was part of "Love," the first volume of an epic series called "Legacy of Cain." It is significant that it is Sacher-Masoch's "Venus in Furs" that inspired the term "masochism" as it is defined today. The play that Thomas has written deals with the same imagery of dreaming of speaking to Venus the goddess of love while she is draped in fur, and delves into the issues of mental and emotional control, and sexual submissiveness and enslavement.

As Thomas (Matthew William Chizever) nears the end of a day filled with fruitless auditions for the role of the female lead in his new play, the harried, late arrival of one last actress, Vanda (Betsy Graver), changes everything. She is a needy whirlwind of quirky contradictions who presses her audition upon him only by her persistence. He puts her through her paces, yet in her audition she reveals surprising talent, sensitivity and a deep understanding of the material at hand, which takes Thomas by surprise. In turn, it is she who ends up leading him through the audition experience, taking it to an ending quite different from the one he imagined.

This two person play is completely engrossing despite the odd, dark nature of its premise. As Vanda, Betsy Graver takes the stage by storm. At first she is an ill-prepared, slightly coarse, scatter-brained actress bumbling her way through an audition. That part of her character never really goes away, though we see less of it as we see more of the character she is reading for in her audition. The character in the play seems her opposite. She is eloquent, while being aloof and sensual at the same time. Her accent, body language and facial expressions are distinctly different when she is the character in the play. Yet, even more enviable is her ability to break into the character of the actress to ask for stage direction or offer insight or feedback and then pop instantly back into the character for which she is auditioning. This play would be worth seeing just for Graver's performance alone, as it stands as a demonstration of admirable acting ability. Fortunately, she is graced by the presence of talented co-star Matthew Chizever.

As Thomas, Chizever manages to make the progression of the changes within his character feel as natural and organic as possible, and remains grounded in his character while in the audition scenes. Though the script is solid, and the scenic, costume and lighting design are all good, what makes this production work is the chemistry between the two actors. It is not a romantic chemistry, but rather a mutual understanding of the nature of the piece, and of their roles in the evolution of the plot at hand. In all honesty, that kind of chemistry is much harder to come by or fake on stage than the romantic kind, as it requires a thinking actor.

Both Chizever and Graver, at the hands of director Joseph Adler, give the audience much to think about in this extraordinarily well acted production of Venus in Fur.

Venus in Fur will be appearing at The GableStage through December 9, 2012. The GableStage is located in the eastern section of the Biltmore Hotel, at 1200 Anastasia Avenue, in Coral Gables, Florida. Valet parking is available, or free parking is available in the Biltmore parking area west of the hotel. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and information you may reach them at 305-445-1119 or online at

The GableStage, formerly known as the Florida Shakespeare Theatre, is a professional theatre presenting classic and contemporary theatre year round. They are members of the Theatre League of South Florida, the Florida Cultural Alliance, the Theatre Communications Group, and the Dade Cultural Alliance. The GableStage hires local and non-local Equity and non-union actors and actresses, and is involved with the educational community in promoting educational theatre programs. In their fourteen year, the GableStage has won fifty-one Carbonell Awards.

Thomas: Matthew William Chizever*
Vanda: Betsy Graver*

Director: Joseph Adler
Scenic Design: Lyle Baskin
Lighting Design: Jeff Quinn
Sound Design: Matt Corey
Costume Design: Ellis Tillman
Stage Manager: Kristen Pieski*

*Indicates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.

Photo: George Schiavone

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-- John Lariviere

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