BWW Review: VENUS IN FUR at Main Street Theater
Main Street Theater's production of VENUS IN FUR is the sexiest and most thought-provoking play you can see in Houston right now. It's a pas de deux examining power between women and men, dominants and submissives, as well as actors and directors. Guy Roberts and Jessica Boone play the piece in a small intimate house that transforms its script into something more personal and powerful than we've ever seen from larger scale productions. It's an electrifying night of theater that only plays through the 24th of January, so rush to get in before it's too late.
The play itself is the Tony nominated work by David Ives which had a successful run on Broadway. The action starts inside a theater where playwright and director Thomas (Guy Roberts) is on the phone complaining to his fiancee that he has just auditioned a gaggle of beautiful women who can't bring his sophisticated script to life. He's working on an adaptation of Sacher-Masoch's treatise on sexual domination VENUS IN FURS from 1870. From outside the building comes screams, and soon a rain-soaked blonde who introduces herself as Vanda (Jessica Boone) barges in. She claims she is born to play the lead, especially since her parents named her after the main character in the adapted novella. She's tough, streetwise, and screeches and brays without any polish whatsoever. Even worse she is in full modern cheap S&M gear showing she has no clue what literary material she is dealing with. Vanda comes across more prostitute than countess from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But once the playwright begrudgingly allows her to read, she pulls out a vintage gown and becomes the Vanda of the written piece. She's elegant, sexy, and suddenly seems to know every word by heart.
What happens over the next hour and a half is a fascinating battle of wits about power and politics mixed with intense eroticism. Playwright and actress go in and out of the script, and we get to see Sacher-Masoch's work come to life simultaneously with a dissection of what it means to a modern world through their discourse on the scenes. But even more fascinating, we examine a man and a woman who contrast perfectly to illuminate the whole concept of the war of gender identity. The two actors create a man who is all too easy to read, and a woman who we are never sure if she is who she claims to be. Because the female is so complex and mysterious, we begin to sense we are watching a play within a play within another play. It becomes a hall of mirrors the simple man is trapped in, and as his power is lost hers rises.
The acting here is first rate. Guy Roberts directs and stars as Thomas, and he manages to do both masterfully. His performance is full of boiling bluff and bluster, and his sexual frustrations are palpable. Jessica Boone is a force of nature as Vanda, transforming on a dime from street to sophisticate. She creates the ultimate mystery of a woman while arguing with the playwright about female identity and sexual power. She pulls off a tour de force with Vanda that is impressive and breathtaking. It's a brave performance full of dangerous choices that pay off in spades.
The set is simple and stark, and lighting and music are used sparingly throughout. Main Street's Rice Village venue is intimate enough that razzle dazzle is not needed. We are so close to the action that the people on the stage are special effect enough. Smartly this production seems to know that, and so everything is subdued to allow the characters to break through.
This production ran for 18 sold out months in Prague, and is only at Houston's Main Street Theater for ten days - January 14th through the 24th. Performances are Thursday through Sunday at the Rice Village location on 2540 Times Blvd. Tickets can be acquired by phone at (713) 524-6706 or through the web site at www.MainStreetTheater.com