BWW Reviews: VENUS IN FUR a Sexy Slam Dunk
The 2013 Canadian Stage season kicked off with a bang last night as Venus in Fur made her grand debut on stage at The Bluma, the first production of David Ives Tony Award nominated play to be mounted in Canada. Starring Carly Street in the role of Vanda (which earned Nina Arianda a Tony award) Rick Miller as Thomas, the play is a home run for Canadian Stage. Sexy, provocative, intricate, psychological and above all, emotionally intelligent, the show held the audience captive until it's final glorious proclamation.
Venus in Fur tells the story of Thomas, a playwright/director who opens the show lamenting the lack of quality women in New York City. He's auditioning women for the lead role in his play, and feels all the young women are insipid, uninspired, unintelligent and incapable of giving him the depth of performance he requires. Enter Vanda (Carly Street), a buxom redhead who bursts onto the scene hours late, a frenetic mess and swearing like a sailor.
She begs for an opportunity to read for the part, and what ensues is a brilliant psychological journey that explores gender issues, domination and perception. We watch as the two characters banter about the battle of the sexes, and in a refreshing twist, we come to see that this particular piece of work actually favours the woman. Vanda is not who she seems, and the audiences gets the pleasure of watching her transform before our eyes from the naive, vulgar and seemingly vapid woman who first enters Thomas's apartment, to an all consuming, all powerful 'goddess' who ends up dominating the man who thought so little of her to begin with.
It's an incredible transformation, and Street is more than up to the task. When she speaks her first line as the character 'Vanda' and not as herself, there was an audible silence in the theatre which can only be described as the sound of a collective group of people experiencing a moment of awe. She continues to transition effortlessly between the two characters, growing stronger in her portrayal of each one.
Miller, most well-known for his comedic work in his one man show MacHomer, is an excellent sparring partner for Street. He plays the straight and narrow Thomas well, transitioning from his position of power to complete and total subjugation with surprising ease. He's a man conflicted, and when Vanda starts exploiting some of those conflicts and questioning his belief system, his frustration and anger is palatable and real.
The two have searing chemistry which reaches it's boiling point during a scene involving a high heeled boot, which Miller places on Street's leg and proceeds to slowly zip up while she moans with delight. It is at once simple and complex, showcasing not only the shift in power which has taken place but also the sexual tension which clearly exists between the two characters. There was a pre-show announcement asking the audience to 'turn off anything that should be turned on, and if you want to be turned on, watch the show' - and in this instance, that announcement suddenly became prophetically accurate.
Jennifer Tarver's direction makes excellent use of the two strong leads, and of the space with which they have to play. The set is simplistic, but gives more than ample opportunities for compromising positions and engaging story telling. My only quibble was with the sheer size of the stage, which in the quieter moments seemed mildly distracting in the way it engulfed the action. That said, it's a testament to Street and Miller that they are so captivating, one does not want to take their eyes off them long enough to stray to the vast empty spaces on either side.
In summary, Venus in Fur is a play with a surprising amount of cross appeal. I actually overheard some very young men in the rush line who were eager to see it for the shock value and 'tits and ass' and remember rolling my eyes and stifling a desire to scream 'can't you just appreciate good theatre!'. However, perhaps we shouldn't discount the value of tits and ass. As Street's character so aptly points out in the show, call something porn and you're bound to sell out. If the promise of an actress dressed up in tight leather gets young butts into the seats, I say 'bravo' to all. Here's hoping they choose to come back when there's less flesh on display.
When and Where?
Venus in Fur
Canadian Stage - Bluma Theatre