BWW Review: VENUS IN FUR Gives Chills and Thrills
Venus in Fur
Written by David Ives, Directed by Daniel Goldstein; Scenic Design, Matt Saunders; Costume Design, Charles Schoonmaker; Lighting Design, M.L. Geiger; Sound Design, Darron L. West; Production Stage Manager, Emily F. McMullen; Stage Manager, Kevin Schlagle
CAST: Chris Kipiniak, Andrea Syglowski
The subject matter might suggest otherwise, but David Ives' play Venus in Fur is very funny and extremely smart. Inspired by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 novella Venus in Furs (subtitled "The Most Celebrated Masochist Story Ever Written!"), the two-hander is a play-within-a-play about a playwright searching for the perfect woman to star in his adaptation of Sacher-Masoch's erotic book. Under the heading of "Be careful what you wish for," an unlikely latecomer shows up to audition when he has just about given up on finding an appropriate choice, but she has lots of surprises in her overstuffed bag of tricks.
The 2012 Tony Award nominee for Best Play is in its Boston premiere at the Huntington Theatre Company with Chris Kipiniak (Thomas) and Andrea Syglowski (Vanda) under the skillful direction of Daniel Goldstein. They both give powerful performances in the play that is primarily about power in relationships, and display impeccable timing in the frequent power shifts that occur during ninety minutes of cat-and-mouse games. Although there are moments when a twist in the script makes it hard to figure out who's on top or which of the pair is actually controlling the game, it is all so deliciously fun that it really doesn't matter.
Ives masterfully blurs the lines between Sacher-Masoch's story and Thomas' adaptation, as well as between the play Thomas has written and the one we are seeing. He keeps us guessing about the motivations of both characters as the lines between fantasy and reality are also blurred. Syglowski has a field day with the rich role of Vanda who bursts onto the stage wet and wacky, but becomes someone else with every item she pulls out of her sack of costumes (with kudos to Costume Designer Charles Schoonmaker). Thomas seems to share our surprise at each of her transformations and Kipiniak has an endless array of responses to her stimulating stimuli. Long before Thomas and Vanda develop any chemistry, Syglowski and Kipiniak are synergetic and draw us into the realm of the audition room, aptly realized by Scenic Designer Matt Saunders.
Lighting Designer M.L. Geiger and Sound Designer Darron L. West make important contributions to our appreciation of the setting, both inside and outside of the room. There are strategically placed claps of thunder and ringing cell phones, as well as changes in the light sources to indicate real encounters versus play acting, when Vanda and Thomas are performing segments as the dramatic characters Wanda von Dunayev and Severin von Kushemski. Although Vanda takes care to make the lighting "just so" during the reading, Syglowski and Kipiniak expertly morph physically and vocally into those alter egos, letting us know that Vanda and Thomas are continuing with the audition process.
Goldstein, Syglowski, and Kipiniak deliver the goods in Venus in Fur, but the goods come from the mind and pen of Ives. The ideas are big and outrageous - among them masochism, psycho-sexual games, gender switching - and not often fodder for comedy. However, Ives tunnels into the characters' psyches and gets at the heart of the issues, putting it all across with his smart, snappy dialogue, allowing (causing?) us to laugh at subjects that are altogether rather dark. As the denouement approaches, things happen so quickly that it feels like we are trying to outrun an avalanche. Better to sit back and let it overtake you. It is oh, so, satisfying.