“You don’t have to tell me about sadomasochism. I’m in the theater.”
So says Vanda (Maddie Jo Landers), the absolutely impossible auditionee in David Ives’s clever two-hander, Venus in Furs. Arriving two hours past the audition time for a playwright-turned-director Thomas (Brandon Morris), she is his worst nightmare—a dizzy blonde, carrying costumes and props, conversation peppered with “like you know”—exactly the kind of woman he has been ranting about in a call to his fiancée that opens the play.
Thomas has adapted a 19th century novella by Sader-Masoch into a play. Sader-Masoch via sexologist Krafft-Ebbing lent his name to “masochism”, just as another literary gent, the Marquis de Sade, furnished us with “sadism.”
Ives is one of our best language-obsessed playwrights, able to play out dizzying conceits in short, punchy sketches. The first 30 minutes of Venus in Furs is a delightful send-up of the nasty nitty-gritty of theater, most specifically the audition process, with a dollop of revenge for every actress that has had to suffer a sexist, idiotic male director.
Yet. Let’s just say that kinksters would probably label the S/M relationship that develops between Tom and Vanda (in parallel to the characters in Thomas’s “play”) fairly vanilla. Each twist and turn (and there are many) are eminently predictable from the outset. Froth this play has in plenty. Danger never really visits the set.
Perhaps that is all Ives wished for—after all, Vanda’s entrance is marked by thunder and lightning, with all the farcical finesse of Young Frankenstein. Thomas, as written by Ives, is an exceptionally easy target, baldly sexist.
The most erotic portion of the play is lifted from the novella, the memories of the man of how as a child his aunt would cane him, while dressed in sable. Thus his ongoing fetish with fur.
Rachel Lampert’s snappy production for the Kitchen Theatre keeps the bon mots flying, and makes comic hay out of the sudden switches of Vanda from seeming ditz, to all-knowing dominatrix (who curiously has managed to memorize the entirety of Thomas’s script.) Who is Vanda? What does she want? Is she Venus herself, revenging every actress cast for her sex appeal?
Vanda offers a delicious playground for a comic actress with chops, and Maddie Jo Landers is just that. She negotiates the hair-pin turns of the plot with gleeful assurance, an appealing mix of awkward, gangly faux-naive and elegant, world-weary soignee.
Brandon Morris proves an adept partner, accentuating the cerebral thickness of the playwright just aching for his sensual comeuppance.
Lisa Boquist on costumes and Tyler M. Perry on lights and set provide excellent design support.
Playing through Sun Feb 9 at the Kitchen Theatre.