BWW Reviews: Mighty Aphrodite: Theatreworks' VENUS IN FUR
Theatreworks sure knows how to set a scene. Last season, Everyman on a Bus had audiences boarding a charter for a literal and allegorical journey around the Colorado Springs downtown area. Now comes Venus in Fur, staged in an abandoned building on Tejon Street with blacked-out windows and a "For Lease" sign over the door. Just walking into the space feels like taking part in clandestine activity.
As well it might, for the subject of the evening's entertainment is an adaptation of Venus in Furs, an 1869 novel which ensured its author, Leopold Sacher-Masoch, was enshrined alongside the Marquis de Sade in identifying the proclivity for mixing pain with pleasure. But David Ives' play is far more than sadomasochistic titillation; it's a study in power play entwined with sexual attraction, gender perceptions, repressed desires, and intellectual analysis of all the above.
The adaptor and director of Sacher-Masoch's work is Thomas Novachek (Jon Barker), who as the lights come up is railing into his phone about his inability to find a suitable actress for Wanda von Dunajew, the woman to whom Venus in Furs' protagonist Severin von Kusiemski longs to submit. None of the candidates have the poise, wit, and dominance Thomas is looking for; he bemoans the lack of "real women" in this day and age (to his fiancée, it turns out, which is probably not the wisest move). Into the audition room bursts Vanda Jordan, spewing expletives, dressed in attire more appropriate for a modern dominatrix than a 19th century aristocrat and hours late for an appointment she doesn't even have. What she does have, however, is a complete script for Thomas' play, a bag full of peculiarly appropriate costumes for both herself and Thomas, and some astounding insights into the material...
Murray Ross' own search for the perfect Vanda has alighted on Chicago actress Carley Cornelius. He could not have chosen better. Cornelius is commanding in every possible sense of the word, from her whirlwind entrance to her fierce closing moments. She immediately conveys the cleverness lurking behind Vanda's seemingly flaky demeanor; she begins subtly manipulating Thomas almost the moment she enters the room. Ives presents intriguing questions about Vanda's identity-where did she come from? How does she know Thomas' play and personal life so intimately?-but in Cornelius' hands, the answers are as unnecessary as they are enigmatic. Her Vanda is, ultimately, the ideal Wanda von Dunajew expresses a longing for: she is her own woman, not what Thomas or any other man would make her.
As Thomas, Jon Barker is appropriately captivated by this unlikely Venus without disappearing completely in her shadow. He provides an interesting character study as Vanda forces him to confront the parts of him that led to his fascination with Sacher-Masoch's work. The pair have extraordinary chemistry together, both in acting out the play-within-the-play and arguing over its interpretation. Kissinger said power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, and both Cornelius and Baker wield it expertly, making for a sizzling evening of dominance, submission, and everything in between.
Smarter and therefore sexier than Fifty Shades of Grey, VENUS IN FUR plays now through April 13th at 527 S. Tejon Street in Colorado Springs, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30, Saturdays at 2pm and Sundays at 4pm. Reservations are strongly recommended, and there is no late seating. Due to the content, the play is not recommended for children under 16. For reservations, contact 719-255-3232 or visit theatreworkscs.org.
PHOTO CREDIT: Isaiah Downing
Jon Barker, Carley Cornelius