Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 15, 2012

Venus in Fur

Hartford TheaterWorks
through November 11, 2012
by Jarice Hanson

First, thunder and lightning. Lights up on handsome Thomas (David Christopher Wells), complaining the actresses he auditioned for his new play were so bad that all he wants is "an actress who can pronounce the word 'degredation' without a tutor." Thunder, lightening, and in comes beautiful, baffled Vonda (Liv Rooth). Is it a coincidence she has the same name as the character in the script, or is it fate? She seems to be the another air-headed actress-wannabe, but she soon turns the tables and shows Thomas that she embodies Vonda, and knows the script better than the author. Coincidence or fate? Turn-abouts, twists in meaning, classical allusions, and contemporary culture are all woven into patterns that are achingly funny, frightening, truthful, and powerful "Venus in Fur."

David Ives' intelligent script allows these actors' talent to shine. Ives' work lets the audience participate in constructing the meaning of the play, and "Venus in Fur" may be his most complex script to date. Director Rob Ruggiero wields his skill by combining lighting, the impending storm, and the seething undercurrent of sexuality and seduction that alternately motivate the dual-portrayals of Vonda and Thomas as actress and  author, contrasted with who they become as they read the script together. Both Wells and Rooth are captivating in their portrayals. The audience knows that they will be attracted to each other, but surprises come as their lives begin to blend with the characters in the script-within-the script. What is funny, turns tragic, and what is tragic, turns into feminist resistance to male domination.

When this play appeared on Broadway, the general buzz was it was hard to describe, but that the character of Vonda was one of the most powerful roles written for a woman in years. There will be future academic conferences dedicated to this show and to what it means, but for now, take a deep breath, leave the kids at home, and experience theatre that might be a little uncomfortable to watch, yet make viewers think, and at the same time be  delighted with the play's intelligence and masterful performances.