BWW Reviews: VENUS IN FUR at Bootless Stageworks Will Make Your Head Spin
Venus in Fur will make your head spin. When you go, be prepared to experience frequent changes in direction. The actors switch characters; the characters switch roles; the roles switch perspectives - sometimes within the span of a single sentence.
Thomas Novachek (Sean Gallagher) is a playwright and would-be director trying to cast Venus in Fur, a play based on a 19th century novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. (Yes, the von Sacher-Masoch from whom we get the term masochism.) He has apparently had a very unsatisfying day auditioning actresses for the principal role of Vanda von Dunayev. Just as he's ready to brave the thunderstorm outside, another actress bursts in, profanely apologizing for being late, even though he doesn't have her on his list.
Her name, believe it or not, is Vanda, just like the character - Vanda Jordan (Kelly Warne). Here we have the first test of power - he wants to get home to his fiancée; she wants to audition. She begs, she cries, she pleads. He refuses, he demurs, he gives in. He agrees to let her do a few pages, and he will read the part of Severin Kushemski, Vanda's admirer who longs to serve her. The roles change and the power shifts.
Vanda dons a dress from her capacious bag and immediately becomes Vanda von Dunayev, complete with cultured European accent. She demands that Thomas, as Kushemski, adopt and appropriate accent as well. As the audition progresses, it appears that Vanda is far more familiar with the play than she should be having only, as she describes it, "flipped through the script" on the subway.
The bravura role in this show is clearly that of Vanda. Ms. Warne's background in comedy serves her well. She can turn on a dime. Her two Vandas display an impressive range of behaviors, some of them bizarre, but they never become caricatures. Even when they are diametrically opposed, they are never contradictory. Mr. Gallagher's roles are more generally more subdued, though not understated, even when the power is in his hands. The two blend their performances well.
Director Rosanne DellAversano has maintained the pace of this show carefully, and allowed the tension to become palpable, even while the dominant comedy sends ripples of laughter (sometimes a little nervous) through the audience. Additionally, her superbly seedy audition studio - quite possibly in a basement - sets just the right tone for the action that ensues. Jo-Ann McIntyre's lighting design and James W. Fuerst's sound design augment the set, adapting audience perceptions to the change of scene within the play.
Bootless Stageworks' Venus in Fur continues at the OperaDelaware Studios, 4. S. Poplar Street, Wilmington DE 19801 through Saturday, March 22. Get tickets through the website: www.bootless.org/venus-in-fur/. Runtime: 90 minutes with no intermission.